The main theme I worked with for my dolls was swords.
A strange theme, perhaps, but it seemed to work well. It played to my strengths while covering my weaknesses. I would never be able to match somebody like Yumeko or Sara in a contest of strength or martial skill. However, the weapons I could create were excellent.
With all the time I spent working on golems and other automatons, it didn’t take much to transfer the basics over to forging weapons and other tools. Sara was absolutely delighted when I started trying to create weaponry on the fly. The gatekeeper loved to smash my conjured weaponry into things – eventually, the weapons stopped breaking.
In a way, my swords were better than what I based them on. Yumeko’s ability to generate swords was limited to her single gleaming blade, copied over and over again on the fly. My weapons were restricted only by my imagination. From composition to form, I could change what I liked.
When metal met metal, my weapons held strong. My own arms were liable to break if I clashed with Yumeko, though. That was where the dolls came in. My creations had limbs of steel, reinforced by magic. If they broke, there wasn’t much hope for me anyway.
However, that kind of situation never threatened my daily life. Other than for fun, it wasn’t like I was fighting anybody. Fortunately, the specialization for my dolls proved to be useful in other ways.
“Hey, Alice. How’s it- What happened to your room?” Ko dropped by one night, but lost her words when she saw what I had done.
I was standing with the goddess in the center of my room. The much enlarged, quadruple sized room, where the previous furnishings in one corner looked insignificant next to the hulking metal tables that formed row after row of workspace.
“Redecorating!” Shinki cheered and put away her transmutation artifact. “I’m not sure if I agree with her choice of style, but it is quite interesting.”
Ko walked in and looked at the conveyor belt stretched across the tables, passing around the piles of cloths or metals and ducking underneath my dolls flying this way and that way. “And…what is all this?”
“Industrialization!” I clapped when I answered Ko. “Well, not really. But I like that word a whole lot.”
“So, you’ve got a bunch of dolls doing what now?” The redhead still couldn’t quite comprehend the setup in my room. Dozens of my creations flittered around, carrying all sorts of different tools. They moved around uncut cloth, simple patterns, rubber molds and pots of metal.
One block of wood would be placed on one end of a row and slowly move along the tabletops. A few of my dagger wielding dolls would take a swing at it along the way until it transformed into a beautiful handle. It was a very nice handle! Perfect for a pot or a kitchen knife or something.
“Making things!” I summarize. “I need a whole bunch of stuff when I’m working, and it takes so much time to do it by myself. So I’m having my help do it for me.”
A doll flew over my head, sheets of aluminum foil carefully balanced on its head. Other dolls wielded sharp swords or sturdy maces, slicing and pounding away, creating a cacophony of noise somewhat like Luize’s factory. Some might have thought it all a racket, but I enjoyed the sounds. There was a comforting rhythm to the thumping and clanging. The weapons might not have been meant to be used for such a purpose in mind, but it worked for me.
Shinki laughed and wrapped an arm around me. “I’m so proud of her. Alice is already doing better than I am.”
“No way! I can’t just change things like you do.” My machination couldn’t compare to the goddess’ creation ability.
“And I can’t understand what you’re really looking for, Dear. That’s why I’m proud of you.” The goddess gave me one more hug before turning to leave. She waved around the blue roll of paper in her hands as she walked away. “Now, you wanted a room like this, then?”
“Okay then! I’ll put it right underneath your room here.” Taking out a gem-tipped wand, the goddess walked over and tapped one of the interior walls. The crystal wall crumpled inwards and disappeared, leaving a perfect nook in the wall. Another tap created a stairwell downwards, which the goddess promptly descended.
“What is she doing now?” Ko asked.
“I need a bunch of things. Like, metal and stuff. Certain mixtures that the goddess doesn’t quite, uhm, understand enough to make for me.” A quick glance at the pile of slag in the corner bolstered my confidence. For all her ability, Shinki wasn’t omnipotent. She couldn’t work well with fine details. The mixture of metals in an alloy, for instance, was beyond her. I could ask for pewter or brass, but specifying any certain ratio of metals left a less than desirable result.
As such, having a supply of raw materials that I could use myself was for the best. The goddess was more than willing to create another room for me to store it all. I wouldn’t need to bother anybody for materials or supplies to fuel my experiments for a long while.
“Doesn’t this all bother you? How do you plan on sleeping with all this around you?”
“My bed has a silence spell around it! It’s nice and silent past that yellow line!”
“Sheesh, you’re a crazy little kid.”
“Who’s a kid?”
“You are, you little brat.”
For me, it was all a natural progression. When I looked around and saw my dolls clothed in maid outfits and puffy winter jackets flying around and breaking dozens of special daggers out of their molds, I couldn’t say how I had gotten there. The days of sewing little holes in my clothes by the fire after a day’s work felt like a lifetime away.
I worked and worked without a worry. My only need that the goddess could not provide, I met for myself easily enough. A few bird-like golems soaring around Makai could sweep up enough stray spirits for several days’ worth of time and bring them back to be stored away by my other creations.
A permanent fix to the deterioration of my soul had not been found, but it seemed like I would never need one given the plentiful amount of evil spirits roaming Makai. Erk never gave up, though, even as his research slowly ground to a halt.
“What do you think, Alice? Did that work?”
“Achoo!” I rubbed my nose and stepped out of the magic circle drawn onto the floor. “I dun dink so.”
“Curses.” My purple-haired magic teacher slammed his tome shut and set it down on the table. His attempts at dispelling the curse upon my soul never amounted to much. “Why can I not make this work?”
“Are they really that hard to understand?” I hadn’t delved into curse magic at all, but if it was anything like other spells, I wasn’t sure how difficult it could be.
“Perhaps not, but the information I have to work with is not as expansive as I would like. There are nowhere near enough texts on curses or the soul. These are topics that scholars have spent generations of human life to glean a fraction of understanding, yet I am researching alone.” Erk grabbed another book from his pile and opened it, skimming through the pages for the information he sought.
“I thought the goddess and everybody else had books on everything.”
“We can’t well have copies of every single book ever written, Alice. Besides, even if our libraries were larger, that would not help. With the knowledge being banned, a wider selection would hardly avail me.”
“Banned?” That was the first I heard of something being forbidden. “What do you mean?”
“I misspoke.” Erk’s reply was instantaneous.
I frowned and stared at the magician. “No you didn’t. Tell me.”
The demon sighed and turned to me. “The knowledge is not banned, but it is not encouraged, you could say. Do you know what a demon is, Alice?”
Erk chuckled while he shook his head. “True, yet not. A real demon-”
“Is a bunch of emotions given a body!” I interrupted him, finishing the definition on my own.
“Correct. How did you- No, that’s not important.” Erk began to draw in the air, using magical lights to diagram what he spoke about.
“A demon is more mind and soul than physical form. Destroying a demon’s body would be a minor setback. Its strength lies in the non-corporeal. This is a key reason why humans had not fared well against demons for ages – destroying the body did little to stop the demon.
“A demon, as an embodiment of negative emotions, can always find a new body. Whether they create one for themselves or take over one owned by someone else, it is of no matter to them. A demon can manipulate those less-than-physical aspects of life as naturally as we breathe.
“Demons do not need to explain their abilities, the manipulation of soul and mind, to each other. The ones who are most suited to such effects do not teach it, because they themselves do not necessarily understand how they do what they do. Like how a human cannot explain what makes their brain works, it is doubtful that demons can explain how they possess another except in the vaguest of terms. Thus, it is left to everybody else to figure out the specifics. Thus, our predicament.”
Erk’s explanation was interesting as always, but he couldn’t fool me. “That’s nice, but why aren’t there any books on it?”
My teacher sighed and sat back in his chair. “Temptation, I presume. The goddess looks to protect us from ourselves should we fall prey to the desires unleashed by such knowledge. While I do not disagree with her policies, it leaves me with few avenues for research as to your problem.”
“Maybe you can ask for help then?”
“You know I am loathe to do that, Alice. While there may not have been any further incidents to turn others against you, I still feel it to be an irreversible risk if I were to ask the goddess.”
“I didn’t mean-” I cut myself off with a cough.
Erk looked at me with a questioning eye. “Alice?”
It was so unfair. If I wanted to keep a secret, he wouldn’t pry like I would. If I didn’t want to answer I didn’t have to, but it made me feel like a bad person to keep things from him.
“Well, there a bunch of demons in Makai who the goddess never sees.” It felt like a forbidden topic, in a way. Sariel and the others were never mentioned. Ever since that one meeting, I hadn’t heard nor seen a peep about the other demons inhabiting Makai. “And some of them are really good with magic.”
“There are.” The magician didn’t say anything else on the topic beyond that. He looked thoughtful, but didn’t share about what.
When he spoke again, it was about me. “You have fared well for yourself, correct? The solution you have found is stable. I don’t see the need to consult with others, yet. Now, I see you have a new friend. She is the result of the spell we worked with last time?” Erk reached up and pulled my rainbow-haired doll from the air. The doll disappeared in a wink and reappeared next to my head, without a head. The doll body spun around and waved its arms frantically, trying to find its mis-teleported body part. I giggled and took its sword before it poked my eye out.
“There are still a few problems, I think…”
No real concerns at all. My life of learning and practice was peaceful. It was easy to get absorbed in perfecting a new spell or the creation of a certain style of weapon.
It took an unexpected occurrence to form a standout memory. Any mentioning of my old life, for instance, were events that stood out.
Sitting around and talking one afternoon with Luize was nothing special. The blonde demon was dressed in her casual sundress, excitedly talking about her most recent plan to glean more outside knowledge. “And that’s what I’ve been thinking about. Pretty neat, don’t you think, Alice?”
“Yeah! But, there’s nobody from the outside to meet.” It was the crux of her problem. As a demon in Makai, all of Luize’s information was dated. The most modern technologies or discoveries eluded her, to her dismay. The goddess’ importation of books and other media was ever so slow.
“Not around here there isn’t. But back up there? You know it, don’t you, Alice? There are some outsiders walking around. They could definitely answer my questions!”
Outsiders entered Gensokyo. That was a fact I knew better than most. “I guess.”
A stern voice interrupted our conversation. “There you are. Please do not wander at such a critical moment.” Luize walked through the door of the café. This new Luize was dressed in her formal suit, all business and no fun. The Luize I had been chatting with stood up, ready to bolt, but was too slow. When business Luize touched casual Luize, they merged.
Casual Luize’s completely magical body disintegrated and was absorbed. Luize, her mind whole once more, bowed to me. “I am sorry for bothering you, Alice.”
“Wait!” I ran after the demon and tugged on the sleeve of her suit. “Are you really going up into Gensokyo? Does the goddess even know?”
Luize smiled and nodded. “We haven’t been forbidden to leave Makai. This is simply a minor business trip, if anything. After discussing these topics with you for days on end, I need to find out more. With the goddess’ supply of information sporadic at best, these interviews are the best option I have.”
The blonde demon stared at me for a few seconds and came to a decision. “Did you wish to come with me, Alice?”
“Huh?” I was surprised by her offer, unable to make an intelligible reply.
“You have not been back on the surface in a long while, correct? Do you wish to come with me?”
It was funny. Not once while Luize explained her idea of interviewing outsiders in her quest for knowledge did it cross my mind to return to the surface. The thought of leaving Makai and going elsewhere, even temporarily back to the place I called home for much of my life, never occurred to me.
Once she offered, though, I felt my stomach twist. I decided to…
[ ] Visit the surface with Luize [ ] Wish Luize luck in her search [ ] <Write-in>
And on to the third thread. It’s long past time to get this train rolling towards the big show.
Not sure what you’d want to write in, but you can if you like.
[x] Visit the surface with Luize... - [x] But avoid the place where your home used to be. You don't want to see its ruins and be reminded of all the terrible things that happened before you ended up in Makai.
“Very well. We’ll leave in an hour then, to give you time to prepare. I don’t plan on this initial trip being longer than a standard day.”
I glanced around me, assessing the creations I had floating near me. Four armed dolls loaded with stray spirits, a liquid metal golem, and my own magic. It felt like more than enough for any simple threat. “I don’t really need anything else.”
“Truly? Then we can depart immediately, if you wish.”
“Okay.” After that quick agreement, we flew away from the city as a moderate pace. From what I imagined, a quick trip to the surface was no worse than when Ko and I went camping out of the city for a night or two.
I took in the sights of the massive underground cave that had become my home while we flew. It was my home, without a doubt. Like a city-goer who understood what areas to avoid or a farmer that knew where the wolf den was, I had grown used to Makai’s fantastic dangers. I could point out where the dangerous monsters lived or where the best places to relax were.
As we flew high over it all, I remembered my first impression of the realm. All the multi-colored crystals and strange land forms hadn’t moved, but they were no longer strangers to me. Everything I had seen when Yuki first carried me had become a comforting part of the everyday scenery.
Soon enough, Luize was leading me upwards towards the darkness of the ceiling. We flew up and up until I needed to cast a light spell. The hole in the ceiling, at least nine meters in diameter, was vaguely familiar. “Is this the only way out of Makai?” I asked Luize.
“It is the shortest way. There are other tunnels through the earth, but the main shaft is the most direct route to the caves above us.” Without any hesitation, I followed Luize into a sharp climb, straight up.
We soared up the shaft, any sense of progress gone. The greyish stones around us appeared unchanging as they blurred by.
Suddenly, the top of the shaft come upon us. I saw Luize level off and quickly dart into a much smaller tunnel, perpendicular to the shaft.
When I tried to follow her, the results were less than spectacular.
“Whoa!” I swung my hand out, scraping it along the rough ceiling of the smaller side tunnel. I tried to slow down and land gracefully, but I quickly found myself plunging towards the ground. I screamed and tried to gain a bit of altitude, but accidentally shot up once more. I pin balled up and down from floor to ceiling again and again while I tried to control my flight.
I finally came to a stop after careening into the semi-solid cushion of Metabble stretched out on the ground. “Owwie.”
Luize easily lifted me to my feet and looked me over. “Are you hurt? I did not expect you to stop so harshly given how easily you have flown around in the past. I’m sorry for not warning you we were exiting the shaft.”
“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.” I hadn’t had such a terrible problem with turning and landing ever since I first learned to fly. “I felt a lot heavier.”
“Heavier?” Luize brushed the dirt off one of my dolls who had been knocked into the wall by my flailing while she looked around the tunnel. “Oh, I see.”
“See what? I haven’t eaten enough for that!”
Luize looked back at me and chuckled. “No, no, your weight isn’t the problem. However, the location is.”
“Huh? I don’t get it. We went up. I should be lighter, right?”
“No. Well, yes, if you were to only apply whatever science you have learned. However, the goddess’ enchantments are concentrated in Makai proper. This far up is practically natural formations.”
“So, that means we aren’t really in Makai anymore?” Creating a place like Makai, I had learned, was ridiculous. It was something I could never do myself. Shinki had liberally applied powerful magic to combat every physical issue one might think of. Pressure and temperature control were only two of the many issues with living in what amounted to a giant cave far underground.
That was why Makai was so suffused with ambient magical energy and full of energy-converting crystal. The enchantments needed a constant source of energy everywhere to make sure nothing collapsed or broke down.
“I guess that means my- Ow!” I squeaked and jumped in place, rubbing my toes as I hopped up and down.
Rocks were really painful to step on!
“Alice, why are you walking around without shoes still?”
“The ground is a lot softer down below.” The soft red dirt of Makai was like baby proofing, in a way. Not that I was a baby.
I experimented for a few seconds to try and figure out how to levitate just above the ground, but my control was too shoddy; it more than likely that I would bump into the ceiling or walls. Instead, I had Metabble return to its roots and slide along the floor, providing a nice and warm walking surface for me.
“Uhm, will I be okay? Will my friends be okay?”
“What do you mean, Alice?”
“There’s not as much magic in the air up here.” More than the flight control issues, a dearth of ambient magical energy proved worrisome for everything I did. “What if I can’t cast any spells? What if my dolls and Metabble use up all the energy and stop moving?”
My dolls flittered around me. They spun and twirl and covered their mouths in fear. One of them tried to faint on my shoulder, but I shook her off.
“You should be fine, I think.” Luize led me through the tunnels, assuredly turning at every intersection. “There is still a large amount of ambient magical energy within the border, even if it is not as much as you are used to. Not that I’m particularly well-versed on the topic. Do you think you will be fine?”
“Well…” I tested my magic while we walked. Little flicks of fire and ice were easy enough to launch. Forming spheres of conjured iron proved to be a non-issue. When I started working on a sword as large as I was, there were only minor difficulties. At most, I needed to grab energy further and further away from me when I needed more.
“It’ll be okay for me, I think. Everything is a bit slower, but not a whole lot. Luminita? You’ll be okay, won’t you? How about you girls?” The dolls I brought along struck poses, pumping and flailing their arms in an effort to show off. They made a ruckus, beating their metal limbs against their chests in a display of strength.
“Metabble? What about- ahaha that tickles!” I didn’t even finish my question before the liquid metal under my feet undulated and rippled. “I get it, I get it, you’ll be fine.”
It was unfortunate that the massive amounts of magic in Makai made it simple for me to be wasteful. The enchantments keeping my creations together and flying around were far from efficient. It was something else for me to improve in the future.
“Excellent. Let us keep going, then.”
After a few dozen turns, I recognized a pattern in Luize’s choice of direction. She was following the currents of magic that were traveling away from Makai. Or maybe something else, like the slope of the floor or something. I noticed the magic.
However, my method wasn’t perfect. “No Alice, not that way.”
“That leads to the ‘main’ tunnel. Specifically, it runs right by the gatekeepers’ garrison.”
“Oh, we can visit Sara!” I stopped in place and turned back to Luize. “Wait, I thought you said we were allowed to be up here.”
“We aren’t forbidden, I said. Be that as it may, the gatekeepers might have a different opinion.” I glared at the business demon, but Luize just smiled and walked by me.
We soon came to a point where I didn’t need my light spell to see. I could see the glare of white at the cave’s exit. I could feel the fresh air and smell it, something lost to me for the longest time.
Luize forged ahead without worry, but I stopped just short of the exit.
There was a mix of feelings in my gut. Was I scared? Excited? Happy? I couldn’t say, but some part of me didn’t want to leave the comfort of the cave.
I didn’t want to, but there was no reason not to.
I walked into the light. Then I felt like vomiting. “Ugh…”
“Breathe, Alice, breathe.” Luize was waiting for me just outside and was quick to help out.
“It’s just the sun.”
“It smells funny.”
“Trees and other animals, I believe.”
“Right…” It was all so weird. The shining of the sun. The smells of nature. The buzz of insects. The chirping of birds. The rustling of leaves in the wind.
The littlest of experiences that I had completely forgotten about.
I shook off the oppressiveness of the sun soon enough. Once I was ready, Luize helped me adjust my flight. It took some work, but I was able to turn and stop on a dime after some open air practice.
“It’s so different.” From the sky above me to the land below me, there were incongruences between my memory and reality. I couldn’t remember seeing the red haze of the border in the sky, and I certainly never had looked down at the treetops.
“Maybe not. I never got to see the forest like this.” We glided over the top of the trees, roughly towards the center of Gensokyo. The cave we had emerged from was at the base of the mountains, on the edge of the forest.
The trees below me were the ones I had once scampered through, in play and in fear.
“But it’s still the same as when you left it, correct?”
“I guess. The trees aren’t memorable, though. I only remember the ones around my home, like the big one that Mr. Hyung tied a swing onto.”
“Your home was near here, then?”
“I think so. We lived on the edge of the forest.”
“If I recall correctly, wouldn’t that be dangerous? Gensokyo’s youkai regularly roam the forest, correct?”
“Yup, but they leave us alone as long as we’re in big groups. The village was plenty safe too, because daddy and momma and all the others were looking out for us.” The wild beasts and dangerous youkai knew better than to approach our village, where the guards might cut them up or momma might force them away. “It…was safe, when we were all together.”
Luize rolled closer to me while we coasted. “Did you wish to talk about them?”
“I don’t know if there are any stories about the outside I haven’t said yet.” I had talked with Luize more than enough times to exhaust the tales of my parents’ homeland.
“Not about the outside, Alice. Did you wish to talk about your village?”
“The village? Oh, uhm, it wasn’t that special or anything, especially compared to the other ones. I visited the one near the Hakurei’s once and it was so big that-”
“Alice.” Luize stopped flying and so did I. We hovered in the air, looking at each other.
“You haven’t talked about them, have you? Your former family and friends?”
What was she getting at? I didn’t answer Luize, so she continued. “I was speaking with the others some time ago. Mai had gathered us to speak about the progress of your education. Afterwards, I spoke privately with a few of the others, and they let slip some of their concerns. There is no doubt-” Luize paused and stared at me. She shook her head and then pulled off her suit jacket. It was the slightest of changes, meant to tone down the formality, I supposed. “You’ve adapted well, Alice. You enjoy yourself and make others plenty happy. But, none of us have heard you speak much of your own past.”
“So? I just had a boring village life. It wasn’t exciting at all compared to all the magic in Makai!”
“I can’t claim to understand you, Alice. I think few of us do. We’ve isolated ourselves from humans, down in Makai. Not necessarily a mistake, but I miss those first years where we interacted with the surface regularly. Once those visits stopped and we only received the occasional exterminators, my passion for human outsiders grew compared to the others who only forgot what humans were like.”
“What’s your point?” I reached out and grabbed Luminita, hugging the doll to my chest while Luize spoke.
Luize rolled her shoulders, taking a few seconds to think about what she wanted to say. “Do you know of the special care Yumeko makes sure you get?”
“You mean like my food, right?” Mai lectured me about it a few times, about the care I needed to give my body. Special nutrition was vital for a little human girl living amongst demons. The meals Yumeko cooked and the ones form my favorite restaurants were, apparently, a bit different from what everybody else ate.
“Yes, but we weren’t worried about all things we needed to be. Physical concerns were nothing compared to the mental and emotional problems we should have worried about.”
“Problems? I don’t have any problems.” Luize’s implied accusations annoyed me. I was doing fine.
The blonde demon’s face was dead-set serious. “Despite the travesty you went through, you never talked about it at length, as far as we can tell. The goddess thought she could smolder it with love. Those of us who have researched the human psyche now think it’s a mistake.”
“What’s wrong with not talking about my past? Nobody has even asked, anyway!” I narrowed my eyes at Luize. “Why are you all talking about my past? What do you even know, anyway?”
There was a flicker of hesitance in Luize’s speech, what she decided to say sounding slightly rushed. “The gatekeepers keep an eye on surface events and make their reports. Some of us were told, or learned from others about what went wrong in your village and the rest of Gensokyo.”
“Wrong? You call what happened, wrong? It wasn’t wrong! It was horrible! Terrible! The worst!” I was shouting at the top of my lungs, barely even looking at Luize. If I were stronger, Luminita would have been crushed in my arms. “Why can’t I just leave it alone? Why do you want to keep talking about this? I’m just fine without thinking about it!”
“Because if you don’t talk about what happened, you’ll never recover from what-”
“They’re all dead! Dead and gone and not important anymore! Are you happy to hear me say that? Why do I need to talk about any of it? Why do I need to remember any of it? There’s no point!”
“Mai, I’m going to get your girlfriend to throttle you for this…”
I could barely hear Luize over the thumping in my ears and the wave of words that flooded out of my mouth. “Are you gonna ask me things? Do you want to know how everybody died? How my friends died in bed when I couldn’t do a thing to help them? How a little baby was born dead? How momma couldn’t fix any of them with her gift? How the doctors that came to help us died too? How other villages closed their gates on us? Do you want to know about how the Hakurei blamed us for spreading disease? For killing everybody else because we consorted with monsters or didn’t take their advice or how we were inferior for mixing with foreigners?”
“I want to know what your days were like.”
Luize’s words redirected my raving, but hardly stopped it. “They were dumb! They were boring and stupid! The birds would start chirping and wake me up but I would just curl up under my blankets until daddy came upstairs and lifted me out of bed! Momma would greet me and fix my hair while I sat and waited for breakfast! Then daddy would go help out in the fields or whatever repair work needed to be done and momma would head over to the shrine and give a quick prayer! I’d go with momma to help clean up or whatever!
“Then there might be school or lessons and I would end up watching over the littler kids instead of learning something new. Momma would never yell but she would give the scariest stare whenever someone behaved really badly.
“Once everybody got home, we would eat dinner and curl up near the fire where daddy would sit with me on the floor and tell a story.
“Momma would work on whatever pretty thing she was making and I would laugh whenever she interrupted daddy.
“It was…really nice…” I clenched my first as I ran out of steam, the anger leaving me when confronted with beautiful memories.
I reached up to rub my eyes instinctively, but there was no need. “That’s weird. I’m…usually crying by now.”
I let Luminita go back to floating and rubbed my eyes again, with both hands. My face was absolutely dry. “Why? Why am I not crying?”
I rubbed my eyes again and again, waiting for the tears to flow down my checks as I thought about what had happened to my village. I rubbed them again and again until they grew irritated and sensitive, but still refused to tear up. “I still care about them! I love them so, so much! The most! I love momma and daddy and miss them more than anything in the whole world!”
I waited and waited, but no tears came. At most, my chest heaved slightly more than it should have. “I’m not lying. I’m not…”
“Of course you aren’t. We all love our parents, don’t we?” I thought Luize was asking me, but when I looked up, I saw that she could answer herself.
“Yes we do.” Another Luize floated in the air with us. She was only a very weak split, her form barely better than an outlined blue smudge in the air.
I was upset over not being upset. I was confused by my lack of response, uncomfortable with it. Luize provided me with a distraction I naturally took advantage of. “That’s so neat. I wish I could do that.”
“It’s the only spell I’ve got over you, Alice.”
“Why did you split now, anyway?”
“I was planning on sending her off to scout out the other villages for those outsiders. I thought you might want to visit your village with me.” Luize smiled and draped her jacket over my shoulders.
She was trying to comfort me, I could tell that much. But it all felt hollow to me.
I stuck my arms through the sleeves and flapped them at Luize, not feeling particularly excited. “Visit my home? Why would I want to do that?”
“I thought you might like to visit.” The blonde demon waved away the fragment of her mind given form, which took off and blended in with the sky.
“That sounds like a dumb reason.”
“You don’t want to?”
“I…” It took a minute to come to terms with the idea, but I eventually decided. “I wouldn’t mind visiting.”
Luize gave my arms a comforting shake before bowing to me. “Lead the way then.”
I slowly spun in place, gathering my bearings, before picking a direction and flying. I used Youkai Mountain as a reference point.
We flew until we reached large fields, where I promptly turned us around. Other villages were large enough to have far flung farms, but not mine.
“Where is it?”
But then we reached the edge of the forest once more. I turned in place and chose a slightly different direction to fly.
“Where is it?”
We followed the edge of the forest until we reached the Misty Lake. By the point, I knew we were too far out.
“Where is it?”
“Alice, do you want to rest and clear your head?” Luize was well-meaning, but her question hurt. The implications were troubling.
“No! I know where we are! If the Hakurei shrine is over there and their village is right there and the edge of the forest is there then…” I paused and thought about it. “The edge of the forest? If everybody was gone…”
With sudden clarity, I led Luize and my automated companions back over the forest. Seeing a spot where the trees looked less dense, I dived towards the ground.
“Oh, I wasn’t expecting this,” I heard Luize mutter as we landed.
I was right. I was home.
I took a step forward, but Luize caught my shoulder. “Alice, I’m sorry. We can leave if you want.”
“Why? I like seeing it all again.” I handed Luize back her jacket and made my way into the village. We had landed inside the wall, the line of wooden stakes blending in perfectly with the trunks of other newly grown trees.
I looked around and traced the steps I had taken countless times during a day. “This was the village’s center. We didn’t have anything fancy adorning it, but all the little kids would gather here to play.”
Few of the stones from the road were left. Most had been displaced by the rampant growth of the forest’s underbrush, large roots knocking aside the construction. “That right there is where our best carpenter lived. Next to his house was a really kind herbalist.”
The houses that hadn’t burned down were barely standing. Most were nothing more than skeletons, leaning against newly grown trees. The wooden frames were broken down or covered with moss.
Some buildings were completely gone, not even their outlines left in the dirt. Grass had covered it all, enveloping any loose metal that the insects couldn’t have eaten.
“That’s the shrine where we kept the Dragon’s Gift.”
“The what? I haven’t heard of such an item before.”
I could imagine the cloudy stone sitting on its stone palanquin. Only the base of that palanquin remained – the rest of the shrine had been supplanted by a particularly slanted tree. “It was this really pretty orb that helped keep the village safe. Momma could use it to do all sorts of things, like help people feel better or cast a spell to keep the forest’s growth in check.”
The forest was so much trouble, growing like that after only a year or so of time. Other villages stayed away from the Forest of Magic for a reason. We were just stubborn, as well as confident in the Dragon’s protection. The Hakurei didn’t want to extend their borders out to us, but we didn’t need them to.
“Your mother was a magician? I thought you said she wasn’t.”
“She wasn’t a magician, but she was really dedicated to doing good!” I smiled when I remembered momma standing on the edge of the forest, dancing and weaving streams of blue lights into an effective barrier.
She hadn’t been a magician, technically, but she could have. I supposed that was where my potential came from. Momma had been great at simply picking things up and making them work. When momma and daddy needed to flee from their home half-way across the world, it seemed impossible, but momma had found a way with a surprising spell. When they arrived in Gensokyo, the village took them in, where momma had shown the aptitude to use the prized magical item of the village.
“This one is my home.” We walked up to a half-standing building, one of the better off ones in the village.
I couldn’t walk through the non-existent door way. Instead, I flew up and around, landing in the remains of a room on the second floor.
“This is…my room.” Tree branches had taken off the roof, and a smaller tree was growing straight through the center of the floor. The room was devoid of everything I used to have. The bed was half-eaten and the dressers cracked in half. “It’s…missing my things, b-but you can imagine what it was like!”
Luize took a few steps around. I winced when parts of the floorboards collapsed due to her weight. “Certainly nothing like that glorious workshop you’ve set up back at Pandemonium,” she surmised.
“Yeah. I don’t think momma and daddy would have liked me to have something like that, though. Their room is right over…there.” I pointed through my room’s door, at what would have been the room across from mine. Instead, I was pointing as a particularly large tree that had grown through the entire other half of my home.
“The tree…r-really ruined it. Y-You can’t see it at all b-because of the tree.” I floated over to it and rested my hand against the trunk. It was strange, being able to feel magic flowing inside of it.
I moved back and glared at the tree. “Momma and daddy kept all their important memories in there. Their things from the outside were precious to them! But now those are all gone. The books and the pictures they brought with them was everything they loved! The pictures of their homes were hung on the wall but they’re gone because this stupid tree didn’t stay where it should be and grew here and ruined my parents’ memories! I hate it! This dumb forest is just trying to take them away from me!”
“Your parent’s most precious memories were of you, Alice. You can be sure of that.”
“A-Ah…” When Luize spoke, I blinked. The sudden rush of anger left me just as easily.
One of my dolls floated towards me, long sword gripped victoriously in hand. The others likewise looked satisfied with themselves, Luminita the most of all.
Magic was gushing out of the tree where my dolls had hacked into it, stripping the bark and ripping into the trunk. From the clean and numerous slices, sap oozed out of the tree, like blood from a butchered pig.
Metabble uncoiled itself, shaking free the splinters of wood it had protected me from. I slid my hand over the liquid metal golem and pat my dolls on the head.
“Maybe we shouldn’t stick around here, Alice.” I took one more look around the shattered interior of my home, filling in all the details that were missing, before following Luize.
She brought me back to the edge of the village, just outside where the wall should have been. “Do you still feel like accompanying me or do you want to head back?”
“Head back? I wouldn’t want to make you do that.” Luize had been looking forward to meeting with more humans, asking all about their newest innovations technologies.
“That isn’t a problem. I can continue ahead on my own and send myself back with you, perhaps take you to the gatekeepers. I’m sure they would be delighted with your company.”
I looked around again. What was I supposed to feel, looking at the ruins of my former home? I wasn’t sure what to expect when I agreed to follow Luize, and I still wasn’t sure after I did.
It was just a sense of emptiness. There was no particular sadness and no particular hate when I saw how the forest had consumed my village.
It was best for me to…
[ ] Turn back. There wasn’t anything left on the surface for me. [ ] Continue on. There was a whole world I had been neglecting. [ ] Wait around. It was my home. There had to be something for me there. [ ] <Write-in>
Tests and interviews do not timely updates make. The (extra) slowness might be around for another month or two.
>>11215 Just a bit too early for what you are expecting, I suspect. Then again, PC-98 isn’t supposed to be canon. Who knows how things will play out?
>>11220 NOPE. That wouldn’t be any fun, now would it? If more people had that concern, some things would have changed, I suppose.
The village had been my home. It still was, or, I thought of it as such. It might have been overrun with vivacious plant life, a ruined shell of its former hustle and bustle, but it still instilled in me a sense of warmth.
Had the forest completely gutted my home? Had everything been plundered, even down to the bodies of my friends and family?
I didn’t know, but I wanted to.
The village never had much of worth. The Dragon’s Gift was probably the most valuable object in the village, but even it wasn’t an item of exceptional power. Of all the magical items dispersed amongst the humans of Gensokyo, it was a mid-tier one at best; a good cure-all, with a few other utility spells and offensive capabilities. Even before I entered Makai, we of the village knew that if the Hakurei or a stronger youkai came calling, it was doubtful any of us could stop them. Momma could use the Dragon’s Gift, but it didn’t amount to much. It surely wasn’t enough to save her or the rest of us.
I slapped my cheeks lightly and forced the thoughts out of my mind. That was no way to think of my family.
There might have been nothing left in the village, but I had to search. Finding the smallest bead from the most insignificant necklace of momma’s would be more valuable than gold.
“I think I’m going to stay here,” I whispered to Luize.
“What? Are you sure about that?” The blonde demon knelt down to look me in the eyes, her concern apparent.
“Mhm. You don’t need to worry about me, though. I’ll be okay.”
“If you really want to stay here Alice, I won’t stop you. I can probably leave three more powerful splits here to keep watch.”
“No, you don’t need to do that. You need all of yourself to be in top form!” Luize’s psyche-splitting body-cloning spell was fascinating, but had plenty of downsides. If Luize wanted to leave me powerful guards, she would be throwing away important parts of her personality.
I doubted any outsider would want to speak with a surly, completely serious business demon. Or, at least, I didn’t want to deal with that either. Someone would have to get the less pleasant parts of Luize, and it wasn’t going to be me.
“I’m not comfortable leaving you here on your own, Alice.”
“But I’m not alone. I have a bunch of my friends with me!” My dolls took their positions around me, floating over to sit on my head and shoulders. They waved at Luize and urged the demon off, confident in their ability to protect me.
Luize continued to watch me, unconvinced. I kept up insistently. “I lived here for most of my life without problems. It’ll be okay. I know about all the dangerous things that might come here.” My argument wasn’t a particularly good one, considering the constantly changing environment, but it was the final push I needed.
“Fine,” Luize sighed. “Make sure to stay safe, Alice. I’ll send part of me back to keep an eye on you, but she won’t be much of a help in a tough situation. If you don’t head back on your own, I’ll drop by to pick you up in a few hours.”
The business demon adjusted her suit and took off, giving me a quick wave as she left. “Good luck!” I called out.
Turning back towards the ruins of the village, I pumped my arms. “Well,” I spoke aloud, “let’s start looking, I guess?”
Despite my optimism, the search was slow and unfruitful. Any larger furniture was ruined beyond hope, home to poisonous mushrooms or a nest of bugs. Smaller items were nowhere to be seen, or otherwise destroyed and unsalvageable. The few things left in good condition, the occasional metal mug or loose screws, were not the kinds of items I wanted to keep.
It was ridiculous to think that everything had been taken, but not completely unexpected. The Forest of Magic was almost a living entity unto itself, always hungering for more. . Books and clothes would have been broken down quickly, shiny jewelry or money whisked away by scavengers. When some of the plants were as smart as a common wolf, and then the wolves as smart as a human, there were going to be complications.
There was a reason that if we ventured into the forest to forage for food, it was never very far. It was ridiculously difficult to tell where the vegetation was benign and where it was not.
“Wah! Kill it!” My dolls moved as soon as I noticed the venomous vines latching onto my skin, the diminutive defenders hacking away with their longs swords. The blades were some of the finest weapons I could make. Despite the strong European design, styled after the weapons of the crusaders, the weapons my dolls wielded were essentially copies of Ko’s favorite magical knife.
Ever-sharp enchantments were too efficient not to use.
The end result, of course, was overkill. The patch of magic vines that would have slowly melted my wrist was shredded to bits in a second.
I was glad that any truly dangerous aspects of the forest hadn’t migrated into my old home. Metabble crushed any grasping grass underfoot while my dolls dismantled any more venomous vines or seed shooting cannon-flowers. Any dread willows or more unpredictable fauna had not moved in.
It would stay that way, if I could help it. “Cut it lengthwise, down the- yeah, just like that. I need a phi rune on, uhm, that tree over there, too.” I directed my dolls around the ruins of my village, cutting runic patterns and designs into the vegetation and ground.
A few wards would be more than enough, I thought. Drawing upon the magical energy around me, I created dozens of low-level barriers. The interweaving bubbles of magic would try to prevent anything magical from entering the grounds of my old home. With any luck, the small obstacle would cause the denizens of the forest to seek out easier areas to inhabit until the world ended.
Walking back over to the destroyed shrine, I dropped the rusted iron heater I removed from one of the houses. Breaking down the metal and reforming it was laughably simple.
Ever so carefully, I built upon the stone base of the shrine’s palanquin and recreated it in gleaming metal. There might not have been any magical items for it to hold, but it could be the focal point for my barriers.
“It really isn’t much, is it?” My dolls shook their heads furiously, but I wasn’t convinced. Cutting some grass and erecting a few make-shift barriers – was that all I was good for? “Maybe I could have mother come up and fix things? I think she would love to-”
I whirled around when I felt the explosion of magic.
“No! I just made that!” I screeched. Whoever ripped a giant hole in my barrier would have explaining to do!
The irrational anger quickly left me when I saw the monsters rush towards me.
I hated them. Those ugly, misshapen creatures would dare to ruin my work for the deceased? Why wouldn’t they leave my village alone?
There were two of them loping forward, running at a breakneck pace. Hunched over and of ashen-skin, the monsters were naked and disgusting. The hideous monsters would trample straight over the memories of my family! They were-
They were demons, I realized. Naked and desperate, I recognized the similarities in the creatures before me with the armed demons that attacked us back in the more lawless section of Makai.
Why are they here? I wondered.
Those beady eyes locked onto me. The demons rushed towards me, swinging their clawed hands to try and remove me from the realm of the living.
I didn’t even need to move.
Metabble rose up from underneath me, a solid wall that the demons would break their claws on. Luminita and my other dolls skirted around Metabble, swords raised.
No different from slicing apart the vegetation. My creations were automated to protect me, as best they knew. They would fight for me until they broke if I didn’t stop them.
The screams and howls started after one second. They quieted after three, stopped after seven. Metabble lowered itself, back into the puddle at my feet, back to a walking surface once there were no more threats I could sense.
My dolls floated back to me. I brushed their heads and straightened their clothes, checking for any damage. I smiled – not even a single strand of their hair had been cut.
“Stop moving so much! I just need to- Huh?” I looked up when I heard her.
A girl flew through the hole in my barrier.
I glared at her. She was the one who busted my wards. She was riding a broom like some sort of fairytale witch, her purple robes and witch-hat reinforcing the image. All of that could have been coincidental, of course. Those alone didn’t convict her as the true culprit.
The glowing, volatile magical energy cradled in her right hand was the evidence I used.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Those were mine!” The witch clad in purple pointed a finger at me.
No, not at me. At my feet.
I instinctively glanced down, following the girl’s gesture, before quickly snapping my gaze back up. I barely noticed the bloody mess at my feet. “What do you mean yours?” I demanded of the girl.
The other blonde floated closer, the spell in her hand still charged and ready. “Those two were totally mine! If they wouldn’t duck so much, I woulda gotten ‘em!”
“So you did destroy my wards!”
“Destroy your what? I didn’t do nothing!” The girl slipped off her broomstick and stood a couple of meters away, the magic in her hand released back into her body.
“Just look at the mess you caused!” I waved behind her, emphasizing the glaring hole in my barrier. The dumb witch’s stray spells had taken out several of the wards I had inscribed into the trees.
“I don’t even see what you’re complaining about.”
I growled at the witch at the incompetent witch in front of me. She couldn’t even see the damage she caused. I could probably fix the wards in a minute or two, but that wasn’t the point!
“You need to look more closely, Marisa. This girl is correct, her grievance obvious.”
Looking back at the hole in my barrier, I saw another figure float through. She was a ghost, the wispy tail that replaced her legs an obvious indicator. Other than appearance, I could tell her body was nothing more than magic, similar to that of a spirit or Luize’s doubles. With green hair and starry blue robes, she was another witch by her looks.
“Eeeh? What’s there to see?” The witch in front of me wandered over to the ghost. I heard her exclaim in surprise when she finally noticed the wards I had carved.
I crossed my arm and tapped my foot, waiting for the two witches to leave. I didn’t like them observing my work, poking around in my home. I didn’t want anyone there to disrupt what was left.
Unfortunately, when they stepped away from the wards, they decided to approach me.. The little witch zipped ahead of who I assumed was her mentor. She had jumped on her broomstick and barreled towards me, a large grin spread across her face.
I saw my dolls begin to draw their swords. Quickly debating in my head, I sighed and called them off. An irritated dreadpossum was more threatening than her.
“Oof!” The witch slammed into me and took me off my feet. We tumbled into a heap, Metabble softening my impact with the ground.
“Get off of me!” I cried out.
“That’s really cool! I didn’t even see those itty bitty wards you made! How’d you do it? Can you show me?” The other blonde clamored all over me, shaking my shoulders in excitement.
“Off!” I shouted again. Metabble flowed between us, pushing us apart and throwing the purple-clad witch onto the ground. I grimaced and stood up, straightening my outfit. It was a good think Metabble was as clean as ever.
“Whoa! This is really cool too! What is it? Can I have some?” Far from dissuaded, the girl apparently called Marisa had only grown more excited. She was on her knees, swiping her hands at Metabble. My liquid metal golem avoided her grasps, flowing through her fingers and jumping out of her palms. I imagined the golem burbling with disgust at the treatment.
“Marisa, control yourself.” The ghost’s commands went ignored. Marisa continued to harass Metabble, luckily leaving me alone in the process.
“Honestly, this child. What student of mine would act this way?” The green-haired ghost floated in front of me, palming her face.
I didn’t like the ghost. I didn’t like her student. I just wanted both of them to leave me alone, but I couldn’t just yell at them to go away with showing the utmost rudeness. It was probably within my rights, but it still made me uncomfortable trying to kick them out like that. It could also be dangerous, if they took it the wrong way.
The ghost witch turned to me and bowed her head. “I am sorry for her actions. I didn’t think there was anybody-”
She paused and looked at me. I stared back.
The ghost smiled. “I didn’t think there was anybody still living here. Have you been living here, child?”
“No. And my name is Alice.” I didn’t like her. Her casual dismissal of my village, the rambunctiousness of her student, and something else of hers bothered me. What was that last thing?
I felt extremely uncomfortable around the ghost. Why was that? The one possibility I could imagine was my condition.
There were four bodiless spirits contained within the dolls floating around me. They had no personality, no mind – those spirits were consumed by a few negative emotions, if anything. Yet before me stood a full-fledged ghost, with mind and personality. It was easy to use up spirits to survive, but what if they were like the ghost woman? I thought that perhaps she made me uncomfortable because her existence casted doubt over my actions.
“My name is Mima, and that one there is Marisa. I apologize on her behalf for ruining your wards. She is not the most careful of practitioners. That being said, you seem to be extremely careful. You…are an interesting child.” The ghost named Mima gazed at me, as if analyzing every part of me, inside and out. She looked around me, at the dolls floating near my head and down at Metabble near my feet. “These are your creations.”
“They seem to be exceptionally well-made.” My heart fluttered when Mima reached towards me.
The praise was nice, I supposed. With a mental flick, one of my dolls floated into the ghost’s hand. “Yes. Wonderful craftsmanship, both magic and physical. You did this all yourself?”
“Fascinating. These dolls are truly interesting. I wonder what’s inside?” A chill overtook me. Could she tell? Was she angry? “What energy source could you stuff inside to power these enchantments? And what a number of them. Very interesting.”
I sighed inwardly once the ghost continued on with her musing.
That wasn’t how I should have been acting, though. I had grown complacent with the situation too quickly. “What are you two doing here?” I asked them, putting on my best stern face.
“Practice for Marisa. I hoped the girl would learn some restraint, but that does not appear to be the case.”
“Practice? How was this practice?” Whenever Yuki or Erk wanted me to practice shooting spells, we set up targets.
Mima looked at me like I was crazy for asking. “A hunt for her to use her magic in a real situation. It’s unfortunate that she still cannot control herself.”
Hunting? A hunt was taking down wild animals to help feed the village on a special occasion. I clenched my fists to try and contain my anger. “How could you even hunt them? They aren’t animals!”
“Them? The low born creatures that have no place in this world? I imagine the villagers would shower praise upon us for helping clear out any wandering threats, given all the attacks.” Mima brushed her hair back – a habit from when she was alive – and raised an eyebrow. “Besides, are you that concerned? From what I can tell, Marisa hadn’t even touched these two.”
“I didn’t…” I swallowed and looked at the ground seriously. I took in the flesh cleanly severed, on par with the finest surgeons’ work. The demons’ red blood was already staining the grass.
They were going to attack me. My creations were protecting me. I wasn’t the one that had gone out to kill them in the first place!
“My dolls were just keeping me safe! They wouldn’t have needed to if you hadn’t done something you shouldn’t have!”
Instead of taking offense like I expected, the ghostly woman nodded. “Perhaps you are correct. There are certainly better targets I could acquire for Marisa.”
Somehow, it felt like she was missing my point. Yet I restrained myself from yelling further. I had already gone too far in judging Mima’s choices.
“Would you be willing to provide us with a few of your dolls?”
“What?” I blinked, caught off guard by Mima’s question.
“Your dolls seem to be an excellent target for practice. They can fly, respond to threats, and presumably resist a great deal of damage. I would buy these dolls from you at a fair price.”
“What? I mean, no, my dolls aren’t for sale.”
“Are you sure? Certainly, there should be some kind of deal we can work out.”
“No, they’re mine! And, well, I guess I do have a bunch, and I can always make more…”
“Of course a talented artificer such as you could. If that’s the case, selling me these four should be acceptable.”
“Not all of them. Not the one with the silver hair. I guess the other three could-”
“Eh? Dolls? What kind of sissy plays with dolls?” Marisa glanced up from where she knelt. “Oh wow, floating dolls!”
I blinked. The annoying witch’s voice made me think. Had I really considered selling my creations to the ghost?
I threw any thought of a deal from my mind. When I refocused on Marisa, I found that I wanted to smack her. The little witch was trying to grab one of my dolls, only for them to dash away at the last second. “I am not a sissy.”
It wasn’t even much of an insult. I was, technically, a little girl. It should have been perfectly fine. Yet, I didn’t like how Marisa said it. She was judging me, implying weakness, despite all I had done. I couldn’t stand that.
“You sure? It looks like your little dolls did everything there.” Marisa pointed to the ground.
I clenched my teeth and keep my eyes focused on the witch. “I would’ve been fine without them.”
“Really? ‘Cause I really don’t think so.” Marisa disregarded me and returned to trying to catch one of my dolls.
She was an annoying brat. For some reason or another, the blonde witch was really annoying. Annoying enough for me to want to smush her face into the mud. I could hardly give my home the respect it deserved with an unruly witch knocking around. I…
[ ] Challenged Marisa to a duel… -[ ] One-on-one, to show her how strong I really was -[ ] Using everything I had; my creations could mop the floor with her [ ] Told the two witches to leave. I didn’t want them around in my village any longer. [ ] Fixed the wards and left. The trip had lost all sense of nostalgia. Then I… -[ ] Tried to find Luize -[ ] Headed back towards Makai [ ] <Write-in>
[X] Challenged Marisa to a duel… -[X] Using everything I had; my creations could mop the floor with her
Lets not be dumb, Marisa will wipe the floor with us in a contest of raw power. Besides, the creations ARE Alice's magic, they're her talent. Telling someone to fight without using all they've got? That's admitting you're less than them.
[X] Decided it wasn't worth the effort to put down someone like her. -[X] I ignored her in favor of talking shop with the ghost mentor. Though I was averse to selling my dolls, I could perhaps make a trade with her and show enough of my own methods for her to make reasonable constructs of her own, in return for a few of her own tricks. --[X] Perhaps, as a ghost, she even knew a thing or two about souls...?
Disregard combat, acquire knowledge.
Alice isn't some kind of poorly-conceived device for a novice DM, selling magical items for gold. But trading notes is far more reasonable for the practicing wizard.
>>11290 [X] Decided it wasn't worth the effort to put down someone like her. -[X] I ignored her in favor of talking shop with the ghost mentor. Though I was averse to selling my dolls, I could perhaps make a trade with her and show enough of my own methods for her to make reasonable constructs of her own, in return for a few of her own tricks. --[X] Perhaps, as a ghost, she even knew a thing or two about souls...?
solid reasoning, the information about souls could make it worth it.
[X] Decided it wasn't worth the effort to put down someone like her. -[X] I ignored her in favor of talking shop with the ghost mentor. Though I was averse to selling my dolls, I could perhaps make a trade with her and show enough of my own methods for her to make reasonable constructs of her own, in return for a few of her own tricks. --[X] Perhaps, as a ghost, she even knew a thing or two about souls...? She needs to get out of her guilt trip, pronto. Mima wasn't a menial ghost that grew into a big one, she was a different kind to begin with. Then again, she doesn't know that and there's no way to ask Mima that without meta-gaming. Let's hope this vote suffices.
[X] Decided it wasn't worth the effort to put down someone like her. -[X] I ignored her in favor of talking shop with the ghost mentor. Though I was averse to selling my dolls, I could perhaps make a trade with her and show enough of my own methods for her to make reasonable constructs of her own, in return for a few of her own tricks. --[X] Perhaps, as a ghost, she even knew a thing or two about souls...?
[X] Decided it wasn't worth the effort to put down someone like her. -[X] I ignored her in favor of talking shop with the ghost mentor. Though I was averse to selling my dolls, I could perhaps make a trade with her and show enough of my own methods for her to make reasonable constructs of her own, in return for a few of her own tricks. --[X] Perhaps, as a ghost, she even knew a thing or two about souls...?
Knowledge. We need to figure out this lack-of-a-soul problem.
You know what would be terrible, but entertaining story-wise? If Mima was affected by the curse and little Alice ends up killing (soul-draining? soul-eating?) her.
I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to take down a bratty little kid.
There wasn’t any point in fighting her. I didn’t need to stoop to her level Marisa might have been very annoying, horribly so, enough to make me consider smacking her around anyway, but I fought the strange impulse.
I didn’t think I was that violent. I shook my head to clear out the thoughts and turned back to Mima. “I’m not really comfortable with selling my dolls, but I can show you how to make your own!”
My offer was met with an incredulous stare.
The ghostly woman’s stare was kind of creepy. “Interesting,” Mima whispered. I didn’t know what was so interesting – it seemed like a logical deal to me.
Mima chuckled. “You are quite an interesting girl.”
“Thank…you?” It seemed like a compliment. There was a hint of amazement in Mima’s voice, at any rate. I hoped it was the good kind.
“Tell me, then. You would simply offer up your knowledge for free?”
“Well, maybe not for free. More like a trade? You must know a bunch of interesting spells!” I imagined a fair trade in knowledge. A powerful ghost-witch like Mima would be far more experienced than me. She was either strong enough to maintain her sanity after death, or had been around long enough for her personality to reform.
“Indeed I do. Perhaps you are already familiar with some of them?” The green-haired ghost chuckled and floated downward. Her body disappeared into the ground as she drew to eye level with me. “What would you like to learn?”
“Well…” I hesitated, unsure of how comfortable Mima was with the topic. I could tell what she was, but sometimes the dead couldn’t. The inability to come to terms with their current form was one reason spirits were consistently insane.
That was one of many facts Erk had taught me after I informed him of the solution to my soul problem, but I didn’t really need him to tell me that. Spending all day with spirits gave me a certain perspective on them. It wasn’t anything I could put into words very well, but it was an understanding. The evil spirits I used were insane, mindless, and lost in their emotions. But once I separated them, caged them in the containment jars I used, they quieted. I could feel the barest hints of other emotions. I thought, on some level, I understood their wordless cries. I thought I heard them raving and ranting about their previous lives, the grudges and grievances they still mulled over.
Those ravings were always concerns they had in life, never touching upon their deaths. Reminding them about their deaths wasn’t smart. If they were cognizant enough to understand speech, a few wrong words could rile them up and whip them into frenzy.
I didn’t want to throw the ghostly witch onto a rampage, but I couldn’t pass up the chance for knowledge. “You’re a ghost, right?”
My heart thumped in trepidation. I imagined Mima’s complexion growing cloudy, her entire form taking on dark hues as her temper spiraled out of control. I imagined an explosion of magic as the ghost lost control of her sensibilities.
It didn’t happen. Mima smiled at me and nodded. “That is correct.”
It was a silly worry. If Mima had a body, then how could she not have come to terms with her death? “Then, you know things about souls?”
“Yeah. The magicians I know don’t understand souls. But since you are a soul,” I winced at my unsophisticated word choice, “and a witch, I’d guess you could explain everything to me a whole lot better.”
“A fair assumption. Not incorrect, either. Why do you have an interest in souls?”
“Uhm,” I paused, unsure of how much to tell her. “I just do. Isn’t it weird to not know enough about something so important for us?”
“That is a reasonable explanation.” Mima’s eyes bored into me, seeing past my slight deceptions. When she spoke, I could feel the strength in her voice along with the weight of accusation. “However, I would need a place to begin teaching. Is there not something you’re hiding?”
“I’m not hiding anything…”
“Something you’re hesitant to share, then?”
“It’s just a personal problem.”
“Related to your soul?”
“What do you think is wrong with your soul?”
“Well, uhm…it’s dying, sort of. We aren’t even really sure, but we think it’s a curse attached in my soul, a curse that’s supposed to rip my soul out of my body.”
“Who is we?”
“My magic teacher and me. He hasn’t made much progress because this problem is really complex compared to just attacking or protecting a soul.”
“This magician is a man from your village?”
“Nope. Nobody in my village was really talented at magic.”
“How is it that he-”
“Lady Mima!” Marisa’s loud shout caused me to blink. She forced her way back into my conscious thought. “How long are you going to stand around talking?”
“Quiet, Marisa. I am speaking with Alice for the moment.” Mima didn’t yell at her young apprentice, but there was definitely a hint of warning in her voice. It was just like when momma called me in to eat but I didn’t go the first time so she had to try again.
“Sorry.” The little witch backed down immediately, lowering her eyes and stepping back.
I felt bad for her. Compared to how annoying I thought she was before, looking at her contrite figure stirred a sense of sympathy. Was the young witch as bad I had thought?
Taking pity on Marisa, I gave my dolls a quick nudge. Luminita and her companions twirled around the purple-clad witch, taking off her hat and tugging on her hair. Marisa lit up instantly, laughing as she chased after my creations.
Mima and I smiled at the scene before returning to our talk. “Now then. This problem with your soul seems rather critical.”
“Not really.” Talking frankly about the irregularity of my soul was awkward, but easier than I expected. It felt like all of my previous worries were frivolous and unimportant.
“It isn’t? You haven’t found a solution, though, have you?”
“Not to fix the problem, but we worked out ways around it.”
“Replacing the bits of soul I lose.”
“How can a magician that doesn’t understand finer soul manipulation initiate such a transfer?”
“Erk doesn’t. I do that.”
“How can you, who do not understand finer soul manipulation, do that?”
“I’m good at magic control like that.”
“You take the souls from others, then?”
“N-No! W-Well, not anymore, sort of. I use stray spirits to replace my soul now.”
“But you would need- Never mind that. You’re a prodigy, then?”
“I guess. The others like to say things like that.”
“Prodigy? That’s stupid! How can you just use magic like that?” I blinked and glanced over at Marisa. The purple-clad witch was barreling back over, her hat planted firmly back on her head. “I have to eat all these nasty things and practice all day long! How can I use magic like you?” For all her complaining, Marisa didn’t even try to hide the fact that she was eavesdropping.
“Marisa, that’s enough. Talent and skill are not the same. You were the one that wished to learn magic, correct?” Mima floated over to her fussy apprentice and worked to calm her down.
I stayed behind, checking over my dolls to see if the brutish little witch had damaged them while playing around.
Eventually, Marisa lay back on the grass, placated by her mentor. When Mima floated back to me, I didn’t give her the chance to speak. “So are you going to be telling me anything important?”
I was tired of just answering question after question. I didn’t particularly wish to talk about myself, yet I still did it. I expected Mima to tell me something useful.
“My opinion, is it?” Mima spoke calmly and without much emotion. She reminded me of teacher trying to sound impartial. “It is highly inefficient to cast a curse that would whittle away at your soul. I imagine the spell was meant to graft onto your soul and tear it out all at once, but your natural magic resistance slowed the curse’s effects to where it could not function properly, instead removing only fragments over time. That, combined with your peculiar ability towards soul manipulation, would be keeping you alive.”
“I see…” Her words weren’t sugar-coated at all, but, I thought it was good to hear such a straightforward analysis. “So, we were right?”
“The hypothesis you are working with matches my own assumptions. Matters of the soul might be complicated, but they are not complex. A soul is, or is not. With one you are fine, the other you are not. If you can identify the variables, the soul is a surprisingly unexciting thing.”
Mima spoke about it simply, as if understanding our souls was as simple as cooking. “Is there a way to f-fix me?”
“You mean to remove the curse? It should certainly be possible. I would need to inspect the nature of how the spell integrated with your body to understand how to remove it.”
“But if you tried to examine the curse, wouldn’t it hurt you?” I thought back to Erk’s major stumbling block. Directly examining my soul required either removing it from my body or linking his to mine. One of us wouldn’t survive those options.
“If I were to try something as foolish as directly communing with your soul, perhaps. However, if one were to understand the workings of the curse, they could dispel it without difficulty. I doubt there are many soul-related spells I have not encountered.”
She sounded confident, prideful of her knowledge. As Mima drifted closer, I found myself muttering, “Why would someone do this?”
“This…curse. It’s not right.” I couldn’t think of a positive use for such a spell. Whoever casted it must have had the intent to kill. “Why would anybody want to do this to someone else?”
Mima paused and grimaced. “Perhaps they were looking for power.”
“Power?” I asked.
“Power derived from souls. If the curse affecting you could cleanly separate your soul from your body, your bodiless spirit would be ripe for harvesting.”
“T-That sounds so…” It sounded right. Like a perfect fit. The idea that someone would go around killing dozens of people to take their souls sounded ghastly.
Ghastly, but familiar. Memories of an idyllic day, the peace broken by dozens of sudden deaths, flashed through my mind. Some sort of poison in the water, the guards had decided. Why else would anybody drop dead while washing their clothes and playing in the river? The children were the most affected, and everybody knew children were weakest to sickness. It all added up if you didn’t think too much about it.
The new, alternate explanation made me sick.
“It sounds rather gruesome, doesn’t it?” It was as if Mima could read my mind. “Such an act can never be reasonably justified to the victims, especially if they were to survive the ordeal, such as yourself. The caster would be a wicked person to inflict such harm to achieve their goals. However, it is one simple way of enhancing one’s magical power.”
I shoved the memories to the side and considered Mima’s last statement. “Why couldn’t they just practice?” I thought that was the sensible way to improve.
“Practice might help, but it can only bring out the best of your form’s limitations.” Mima traced her finger in the air, forming a triangular shape. “Mind, body, and soul. Taking the souls of others, especially those that are already magically inclined, can power your own. Eating foods with concentrated magical energy affects the body, while understanding age-old rituals works on the mind. These are but a few ways to increase one’s own potential, which training can then enhance.
“But I digress. I would very much like to examine the curse’s effects on your body.” Returning to the matter before the short tangent, Mima gathered magical energy around her. Most of it, I noticed, came directly from her. Just like with Marisa, the two witches barely drew upon ambient energy like I had learned to do.
“Ah!” I gasped in surprised when steel swished through the air in front of me. My dolls had drawn their swords and attacked, slashing at the incorporeal form of Mima. Under my feet, Metabble moved, drawing me backwards and towards presumable safety.
Mima look none-too-pleased with the swords disrupting her form. “I might not feel this, but it is still rather unpleasant.”
“S-Sorry.” I exerted my will and consciously drew back my creations, setting them back into their docile standby modes.
“It is fine. However, I can hardly check your condition if you rebuff me when I move to examine you.”
“I didn’t mean to.” My enchantments need more work, I thought. Identifying the real threats to my person was more flawed than I expected. I hypothesized that linking my body’s condition to their defense mechanisms wasn’t ideal. They might have been more jumpy because I saw the gathering of magic.
“It is quite fine, Alice. If you would please hold still for a moment?”
“S-Sure…” Swallowing lightly, I kept my focus on my creations. I didn’t want them freaking out again.
Mima let her magic flow over me, whatever spell she cast wrapping around me like a blanket. It made my skin crawl, but I bore with it. “Yes. Hmm, I see. If this is- Yes, then that should be- How could I have missed this?” The ghost talked to herself while she concentrated on whatever her spell was telling her. “Fine there, but this is- Fine too? Then the problem must lie-“
I felt the spell around me dissipate, seemingly at random. Mima drew back for a moment and sighed. “Excuse me.”
The green-haired ghost held out her hand in front of her, forming an L-shape with her fingers. Magic coalesced in a rectangular plate, completely opaque. Her eyes were fixed to her side of the magic plate. “Yes? What is it?”
It was a communication spell of some sort. “I’m training my apprentice at the moment.”
Considering the one-sided conversation, there was probably some sort of telepathy involved. “No, no…they were fine, but it was not as effective as I had hoped…”
I had learned a number of different ways to communicate via magic, but I had no real need of them while in Makai. Despite how vast the demonic realm was, everybody I needed to see could almost always be found in their usual spots. “Very well, I’ll drop by later. Is that all?”
Mima closed her hand, the magical communication broken off with a fist. The witch yelled for Marisa before turning back to me. “My apologies, Alice, but we should be off.”
“Huh? Ok, okay. But, what did you see?” I wouldn’t want to keep the pair from doing whatever they needed to and I was more than happy to reclaim the village for myself, but I still needed to know what the ghost found out.
She wasted no time in outlining what she thought. “You are a surprising prodigy. I assume that your natural magic control is so fine that when this curse attached itself to you, your body immediately internalized it and began working with what you had learned to save yourself; an instinctive sense for magic that deserves jealousy. I imagine there are few people, human or not, with such a talent.”
“But I’m not that good…”
“Who’s to say? The soul, as much as your mind and body, is integral to your spell casting. Changes to it are not to be taken lightly. As for curing your condition,” Mima paused unexpectedly, leaving me waiting, excited to hear her analysis. “I wouldn’t have the faintest idea where to begin reversing what has happened.”
Huh? I thought I didn’t hear her correctly.
Mima must have ignored whatever surprise was plastered across my face as she continued. “I dare say that this curse, this foreign magic, has become part of you. It has rooted itself in your soul even more deeply than I expected, such that the two are virtually inseparable.”
“That can’t be true.”
“It is not unheard of. Powerful magics can warp a soul just as much as a body or mind. Imagine a parasite that, after attaching itself to you, cannot be removed prior to death.”
“But, my soul is mine! What’s me is me! Can’t you like, spot the difference and remove what isn’t me?”
“Not effectively, no. This is no cancer attached to your soul, it is more the salt in the water of your being.” Mima rubbed her chin while she thought to herself. Eventually, she began to prepare another spell and elaborated on her thoughts. “Slowly removing your soul, scrubbing it clean of the curse, and storing it elsewhere would be the most efficient solution.”
“I…I couldn’t live through that, could I?” Mima’s suggestion would remove the curse from my soul, but it wasn’t much better than any other option considering it still involved dismantling my soul and taking it from me.
“Most likely not, and likely not the one conducting the procedure either. If this curse is meant to remove souls other than the original caster’s, I doubt anybody handling it will fare well.”
“S-So…what spell are you preparing?” The talk made me nervous. The obvious spell gathering in Mima’s non-corporeal hands made it worse.
“Oh, this? It is simply-” The ghost paused and glanced upwards before letting the spell go. “Nothing of importance. I had thought to try and work on your condition, but there is no time. If you wish for my further help, you need only find me. Marisa, come.”
The blonde witch jumped to her feet from where she was sitting. “Eeeeh? Why’re we going so soon? Weren’t you gonna do something just now? I wanna see it!”
“Come, Marisa. We have tarried too long.”
“Wait, Lady Mima! Don’t leave me behind!”
As quickly the pair of witches had appeared, they left. After a few bewildering seconds, the witches couldn’t be seen.
I glanced up, curious as to what Mima looked at. Floating above the village, I saw the blue-tinted split of Luize waving at me. Rather, not waving, but beating on the barrier I had erected.
Sighing, I opened up the wards and let the part of my demon friend into the village. The split said nothing, instead opting to sit on the ground and watch me. It must have been an incredibly weak portion of Luize, just enough to keep an eye on me and fly for help if needed.
The meeting with Mima and Marisa left me feeling empty. I couldn’t understand the emotions plaguing me. Marisa had been loud and annoying, but earnest. After my uncharacteristic bout of annoyance at the witch, I thought she wasn’t so bad. On the other hand, Mima had been composed and responsible, but somewhat pushy. The ghost unsettled me for a combination of reasons, some I couldn’t quite identify.
After working on my wards and getting lost in the work, I felt my head calm and clear.
The situation wasn’t as hopeless as Mima had made it out to be. I didn’t tell her much, so she had to have just been guessing.
Certainly, I doubted I could completely cure my affliction on my own, or even with Erk’s help. But, Mima’s talk of moving my soul around reminded me again and again of the goddess. Mother could definitely help if I asked her…right?
Yet, that idea came to a screeching halt in my mind. I still didn’t much like the idea of asking her. Erk’s warnings continued to ring in my head, and my own worries kept me wary of the idea.
Besides, I didn’t want to die, for any amount of time. I liked my body just the way it was. In a way, I knew that I was the sole inheritance that my parents had left me. I couldn’t just throw myself away like that.
The solution Ko and I had found was fine, for the time. I didn’t think there was need to further involve my family in my own problems, especially since I was no longer a danger to them.
I wandered my village for hours, mulling over all my thoughts and busying myself by improving the magical defense around the ruins. It was practical experience for my ward-crafting, if nothing else.
“I’m going to blast this dumb forest!” The sudden yelling caught my attention while I worked. I dropped the metal lock I was liquefying and walked to the edge of the village.
“How stupid can you be? Maybe if you didn’t run into every branch you wouldn’t be having problems?”
“These tree things are stupid! They should just shatter when you walk through them, like ours!”
“They bend. Are you blind or something? These aren’t made of crystal!”
“They’re stupid is what they are! Evil monsters bent on wreaking havoc and sewing misery!”
“And they’re dumb! Why are we even trudging through this place? You should’ve kept an eye on her!”
“That was your job! I was tailing Luize, remember? How could you lose sight of Alice?”
“It all looks the same from above! How does anybody find anything up here?”
“Goddess, please tell me she’s around here. I don’t think I can babysit this woman any longer.”
I knew the two quarreling voices better than any sounds in the whole world. Carefully opening up my barrier, I stepped outside my village and yelled into the forest. “Ko? Yuki?”
“Alice!” The cry responded.
It was followed by a beam of red light. I squeaked and threw up a shield before diving out of the way. The low-intensity jet of fire blazed a path straight through the shrubbery. Yuki came zooming through the hole she made, sweeping me off the ground and pulling me into a hug. “How did you ever live up here? It’s terrible!”
I coughed and pushed the fiery witch away, taking a second to recompose myself. Ko emerged from the trees a few seconds later, knife gleaming after cutting whatever was in her way.
“What are you two doing here?” I questioned them.
Yuki grinned and beat on her chest. “I saw you flying away and I got curious. This tyke here was worried about you, too.”
“Who was worried?” Ko snapped back. “You were the wreck!”
“I wasn’t the one begging to come along to make sure her dear, precious friend was safe and sound.”
I smiled at my two friends and placed a hand over my heart. “Thank you.”
“S-Sure, no problem Alice…” Ko looked away from me, choosing to examine the ruins of my village. “So, this is where you used to live?”
“That’s right!” I jumped on the chance to show my friends around my village, even in its less than livable condition.
It was a chance to distract myself, to focus on the happiness of the past and present. The ebanter between the three of us was a way for me to relax from the events of the day. Talking about my life in the past with my closest friends was a nice change of pace.
It grew dark soon after I finished describing my village to Yuki and Ko. After sending Luize’s partition back to her, the three of us decided to head home. I was worried that Yuki might cause a forest fire with how massive a fireball she maintained for light, but it was a silly concern.
The majority of the forest’s trees didn’t burn easily with the magical fire resistance they developed, after all. Just another fact of life I grew up with.
The three of us slipped by the gatekeepers by taking advantage of the numerous interconnecting caves of the mountain. When we dropped down the shaft to Makai, I was elated at how easy magic became again. Casting spell just didn’t feel right outside of Makai.
After we returned from the outing, routine took over again. The day ended without fanfare, and the next was filled with my usual activities. The small blip of excitement during my trip to the surface was only a footnote in the constant stream of my daily life.
When I went to sleep that night, I never considered how foretelling the quick sojourn to my home would be.
The girl gasped for breath, the air coarse and painful to her fresh and untested lungs. The feeling of life, and all its associated pains, was gloriously new.
“Careful, careful. Focus on breathing for the moment.”
The girl coughed and spluttered, every wheeze a new, aching lesson. The pull of gravity on her body and the batting of her arms against the air were a struggle never before felt.
Five senses, one mind, thousands of new experiences. Thousands upon thousands. The thumping, breathing, bumping, pounding, pulling, shifting, rubbing, wheezing, seeing, feeling, being.
How to act to think to feel to be to live – how to exist. The girl barely knew where to start. She knew, she realized, that the information was there. But how could she think to think about what she should think of if she didn’t know what thinking really was?
“I said to breathe, not to think, Dear. Focus.”
The girl blinked. That was a strange – what was strange? – experience. Above the girl, a woman stood.
“I suppose this wasn’t the best way to go about this. I’ll have to try something else. More human-like might be better.”
“You-” the girl croaked, the first word to issue forth from her chest.
The girl looked at the woman standing above her and moved.
The girl didn’t know about her magic. She couldn’t, without having thought about it. Yet she moved, her arm lashing out at in-human speeds, a spike of pure darkness thrust forward in a lethal attack.
The pulse of red overwhelmed the girl, slamming her back down onto the table where she lay.
“My, that wasn’t nice. For your own good, I suggest not following your instincts too closely. That’s another change I’ll have to make. My, only a minute of life and you’ve already taught me so much!”
“You’re me.” The girl snarled and tried to rise, but she could not consciously coordinate her limbs. It was a struggle to get them to behave. “I’m, me. You’re nothing.”
The girl felt the connection. She felt how similar the being above her was.
“On the contrary. I’m everything. You’re the nothing, Dear.” A hand brushed against the girl’s face – another first – the warm fingers tickling her skin with the strange texture of skin. “Please behave yourself so we can find out who you would like to be. I would hate to destroy my first daughter and start over.”
The girl gazed at the face that was hers, wasn’t hers, and smiled.
She felt that she would be learning many things from her new family.
“This? It’s a watch!” I displayed my newest gadget to my friend while we rested. “I made this one after looking at this.” In my other hand, I held a simple digital wrist watch.
“Eh? Is that one of the things Luize brought back?”
“Uh-huh.” It was exciting times for me. After her initial trip to the surface, Luize made a few friendly contacts amongst the humans and outsiders of Gensokyo. The business demon had gone on several trips to the surface, often bringing back exiting items for me to tinker with.
My magic watch, modeled after the digital watch, was far more useful than the little gem clock that Shinki distributed. Knowing the date might not have been too useful in Makai, but it helped return to me a sense of time in the unchanging demon realm.
It reminded me of days like my birthday.
That was…a different experience. My first birthday in Makai had gone completely unnoticed, forgotten by all. I had been so absorbed by the newness in my life that I hadn’t remembered. My second birthday was a personal affair. I didn’t even realize the importance of the date until half-way through the day.
I didn’t cry, but I did feel somewhat melancholy that day. Nobody else but me knew the importance of that date. I kept it that way, for some reason. They might have been my family, but I didn’t want to share the day with any of the demons. It was my own personal day, a link to my old life.
Besides, Ko’s birthday every year far and away made up for every other missed party in Makai.
That was why we were out in the crystal forest. Before I knew it, Ko’s birthday had appeared again. It felt like the event occurred just the other day, although I knew much time had passed.
“You don’t want to head back now, do you?” Ko only asked because she worried about me. I knew the little devil didn’t want to return to the city for her party.
“That’s okay. We can stay out here longer if you want.” I didn’t mind spending time with Ko outside the city. I had learned that going to the party would be a fun but exhausting time.
It was relaxing, wandering the crystal forest. There were no dangerous animals to contend with this close to the city, and the bustle of the party couldn’t be heard. It was me and Ko, enjoying our time together.
Right on cue, the sound of boots shuffling on the soft Makai dirt interrupted our tranquility. Ko and I both stood up and looked down the path of the forest. From the direction of the city, a demon came jogging towards us.
He wasn’t someone I knew well. The black-haired, horned, and muscular demon was someone I had seen only occasionally, usually sparring with other martial-minded demons.
Yet, when he approached us, I didn’t expect him to be dressed in armor. It wasn’t much, just a chest plate and limb protection, but it was more than what any demon usually wore. Even when sparring, I noticed that the demons tended to do it in whatever clothes they normally wore.
“Ko, Alice.” The burly demon jumped straight to the point. “Yumeko requests that you return to Pandemonium at once.”
“Eh? Like hell.” Ko rejected the message immediately, in normal fashion. “If the super maid wants me for something, she can come talk to me herself.”
“She would like you to return to Pandemonium,” the demon repeated.
“Or what? You plan on escorting us back?”
Ko sent the man a withering glare when he nodded. “Ko…” I began, gently tugging on my friend’s sleeve.
“She’s just afraid of me doing something stupid. If she wants to panic, I’ll give it to her. I say we give this bozo the slip,” Ko whispered to me.
I wondered how much thought Ko gave this plan of hers. “Did Yumeko say why she wanted us back?” I asked the man.
He nodded. “She believes you would be safer there on this day.”
“Hah, see? She just wants to chain me up for the day so I don’t run off.” Ko was already tense, prepared to run off through the crystal forest to anywhere that wasn’t Pandemonium.
I sighed and grabbed Luminita out of the air, choosing to hold the doll in my arms. With the other three dolls and Metabble, I was more than prepared for whatever I might have to deal with.
[ ] Ran with Ko… -[ ] Out into Makai -[ ] Around in the forest -[ ] Back to the city [ ] Followed Yumeko’s request… -[ ] And dragged Ko with me [ ] <Write-in>
>>11290 Every world needs its magical item peddler. Where else are those adventurers and entrepreneuring young heroes going to pick up their snazzy starter items?
>>11293 I’d imagine asking about Mima’s differences from the spirits Alice sees flying around Makai isn’t too much of a stretch.
>>11302 At this point, accidental om-noming isn’t a worry outside of certain circumstances.
I decided to follow Yumeko’s request. If someone was here to escort us, in armor no less, there had to be a good reason for it.
“Wait Alice, where are you-”
I glanced back at my friend. “Let’s go, Ko.”
“You’re kidding me,” the redhead answered, her hands on her hips.
“I think Yumeko has a good reason for all this.”
“Uh-huh, sure.” Ko sighed and walked over. “When she sticks the shackles onto me, I’m holding you responsible.”
With Ko and I in tow, the horned demon began the walk out of the forest. We weren’t in a rush, but we were moving much faster than the leisurely stroll from before.
“Um, Mister, uh,” I paused.
“Sadao,” the demon spoke in his deep voice.
“Mister Sadao, Yumeko didn’t say what’s happening today, did she?”
“I have not been told the full details.”
“Oh, okay.” With our escort being an informational dead end, I eschewed any further interrogation and quietly walked along.
“Don’t you think it’s sketchy, Alice? I’m sure he knows. He’s just keeping it from us to draw us into the trap!” I rolled my eyes at Ko’s suspicious ramblings and instead thought about the intricacies of the next doll outfit I was going to make.
As soon as we took to the air, I could see the city and Pandemonium in the distance. I didn’t like what I saw.
“Where’d the party go?” When Ko and I had made our way to the crystal forest, the city had been filled with decorations and alight with activity.
Yet, as we passed by it only hours later, it looked like it had returned to normal. Less than normal, in truth. The number of demons out and about was approaching zero. The few demons I saw were like our escort, men and woman dressed up in unusual armaments. Those demons looked prepared for a fight while they patrolled the streets in pairs.
“The day’s festivities finished dispersing thirty minutes ago, upon Yumeko’s orders.”
“…Freaky,” Ko summed it up.
It was one of the oddities I hadn’t grown used to. With the absence of everything I had come to love about living in Makai, the city felt an alien place.
Once we landed at Pandemonium, I was astounded by the bustle inside.
“Wow! I’ve never seen it so busy here!” The large crystal halls were filled. Demons of all shapes and sizes were rushing down the wide hallways. Some demons tried to take advantage of the tall ceilings on each floor and flew over the traffic, but quickly found themselves in near-collisions with their equally enterprising peers. It felt as if half the population of the city was running around in Pandemonium, each one busy enough to rush.
“Even with all these people, this damn castle still looks oversized.” The sulking redhead wasn’t nearly as enthused as I was.
Our burly escort shoved his way through the crowd, giving us a comfortable space to walk in. He moved with a purpose, tracking down Makai’s most prominent maid with ease.
“I’ve brought them, Ma’am.” She was standing over a table in one of Pandemonium’s many nondescript rooms. There were demons funneling in and out of the room, dropping off papers or conversing in the corners. A map of what I assumed was Makai was laid out on the table.
The blonde maid glanced up from the table and nodded to our escort. “Good work Sadao. Now, I need you out on the third perimeter for observation. Maria will be on standby with further information.”
“Got it.” To the disgruntled cries of many a demon, our escort pushed his way back into the hall and left us behind.
“Girls, welcome back.” Yumeko pulled us closer to the table and out of the flow of traffic. “I would appreciate it if you could remain here for today, specifically on the lower floors if at all possible.”
The lower floors of Pandemonium were the boring ones. Generic kitchens or bathrooms dwindled away until each room was literally empty. The prospect of hanging out down there was not exciting. “Does that mean I can’t go to my room?” I asked.
“Perhaps a brief visit, but I would prefer you not to linger there.”
Ko slammed her hand onto the table, drawing the attention of everybody in the room. “Why should we listen to you at all?”
I sighed and looked away. I didn’t know her. Nobody would associate me with her.
“Because I am trying to avoid any accidents and keep everything running as smoothly as possible.” Although Yumeko’s voice remained even-tempered, I imagined she was already growing frustrated with Ko’s arguments.
“What’s going on, huh? Did the goddess screw something up?
“Not as such, no. These events were beyond our control.” Yumeko turned back to the table and poured over the map before flipping it over. I floated up to get a better look. On the other side was another map, but one of what looked like Gensokyo. “After this is all over, I intend on rectifying that mistake.”
“Dodging my question, eh? How typical, you shifty-”
Yumeko cut Ko off, her voice approaching a growl. “We are receiving a special visitor today. We need to play the part of the good host and accommodate her.”
“That still doesn’t-”
“Report, Ma’am!” A female demon in an armored dress walked up to the table and clicked her heels together. “The Hakurei has already breached the main shaft. Current estimates expect her arrival within the hour. The gatekeepers are reporting seventy percent causality rate.”
Yumeko stroked her chin momentarily while she processed the news. “I see. The remainder has moved to resume their duties?”
“Yes Ma’am, but they are unable to maintain effective coverage over the entrances.”
“Very well. They’ll need to hold on for now. Inform them we will likely be unable to return their cohorts until the Hakurei has made her exit.”
“Understood. Also, word from the goddess. She has already reconstituted several of the unexpected causalities and is inquiring about the spread of news.”
“Tsk. We made sure to inform everybody, but these lackadaisical people have no sense of urgency. We can divert Iris’ platoon to search for any noncombatants. I’ll talk with the goddess about-”
“Hey!” Ko flew between Yumeko and the messenger, rudely interrupting the conversation. “What is this? People are dying out there?”
The maid reached out and grabbed Ko by the wrists, planting my friend back on the ground. “Indeed, which is why I am requesting you two confine yourselves to the lower floors. Especially you, Alice.” Yumeko gave me a look. It wasn’t an order, but I didn’t have the option of doing much else. “Now, I need to coordinate the defense. Please do not try to bother anybody working. Good day, Ladies.”
With those words, Yumeko walked out of the room, all the while conversing with the messenger.
“Hey! You still have answered me directly!” Ko shouted at the maid.
Before the redhead could fly after Yumeko, I grabbed her hand. “Ko, come on. Let’s get out of the way.”
“Sheesh, fine. That stuck-up maid never gives me the whole story anyway.”
When Ko and I reentered the hallway, we found ourselves dragged along by the flow. Before my friend started something stupid, like threatening people with her knife to make space, I had Metabble rise up and form a solid slab as tall as any of the demons.
We worked our way over to my room so I could grab some of my things before heading to the lower floors. After descending staircase after staircase, we left the mass of activity behind us. One floor below was still filled with demons, trying to take advantage of alternate routes to avoid traffic. Three floors below was devoid of life, just like any other day.
“Do you really need to bring all of your dolls with you?” Ko pointed up, referencing the fifty-some dolls floating above our heads.
“Of course I do!” I defended my decision, grabbing one of my dolls and petting her on the head. “I don’t want them to get damaged when whatever happens, happens. I worked hard on all of them! Besides, there’s enough room for them down here.”
“Yeah, but now we’ve got our own personal cloud.”
“That’s not a bad thing.” It was a very unique cloud. Few of my dolls were alike. They each had their peculiarities as I experimented with physical materials and magical enchantments. For all the knowledge my friend had, she couldn’t appreciate the finer aspects of life.
“Yeah, yeah.” Ko waved off my objections and grinned. “So, I’m pretty sure there are some exits down here that lead out directly to the lake we can use.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem sneaking out along the surface of the lake, I think. It doesn’t look like they’re keeping much of a watch up around the place.”
What was wrong with her? “Why would we do that? It’s dangerous!”
Ko frowned and tapped her fingers together. “If that demon hunting shrine maiden is coming here, I would prefer not to be. If she’s actively killing people instead of trouncing them, I don’t want you to be anywhere nearby.”
I appreciated her concern, but I couldn’t understand her logic. “But if we go outside we might meet her sooner, won’t we?”
“I feel like we could see her coming and run away if we had to.” Ko threw her hands up. “But fine. If it bothers you so much, then we can stay in here. I have half a mind to go back up there and try to squeeze some more information. Why is this Hakurei girl bothering us now, of all times? There has to be a reason.”
Why did Ko always want to complicate matters? It was simple. Danger outside, safety inside. Listening to Yumeko was the right option.
The right one, for a child. That stray thought nagged at me for some inexplicable reason. Along with Ko’s insistent planning and adventuring, I was hesitant to sit still and wait. The two of us had overcome hundreds of dangers out in Makai, many completely unexpected. One single girl couldn’t prove much of a danger if we were careful.
But that line of thought was silly. Spending a few hours in Pandemonium’s lower levels wasn’t much different from what we would do on a regular day. Besides, I could think of a few interesting sights Ko might like to see.
It was a tough choice.
[ ] Showed Ko around Pandemonium’s lower floors [ ] Searched for more information upstairs [ ] Snuck away from Pandemonium [ ] <Write-in>
The time when I can write to my heart’s content everyday feels so far away.
I showed Ko around Pandemonium’s lower floors. If I didn’t, the redhead would run off and do something stupid, just to spite what Yumeko told her to do.
“Hey, follow me Ko!” In a surprising twist of fate, I was the one to snatch up Ko’s hand and drag her along.
“What? Where are we going?” Ko’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “You know about an exit?”
“No, but there are some interesting things down here you might want to see.”
My answer was not what my friend was expecting. She deflated and half-heartedly ran along after me. “You really don’t want to leave at all, huh?”
“Not really,” I admitted. “You’ve never been down here before, have you?”
“Nope. It all looks pretty bland, though.”
“Well, most of it is.” That was the truth. The lower floors of Pandemonium didn’t even have empty rooms to break up the monotony as we drew closer to my destination. We traversed the maze of crystal hallways, each looking exactly the same with dozens of other passages branching off and looping around.
As time ticked by, I wondered how exactly I found my way the first time. It was easier back then. I had just been aimlessly wandering, but had somehow been drawn to the lower floors’ only peculiarity. There was no such attraction when I was trying to show Ko.
“Alice, are you lost?”
“No!” I hopelessly glanced around for any sort of mark or indicator to where we were. “I think we just took a wrong turn somewhere.”
“I haven’t been keeping track of all those turns you’ve taken, by the way.”
“It’s fine! Just, um…Jassy, stay here and come to me once I call you.” A cute doll dressed in adorable chainmail separated from the floating mass above us. He saluted to me and floated to the center of the intersection, stiff and at attention.
Taking Ko’s hand once more, I began a systematic search. Without any sense of where to go, I used my dolls to keep track of where I had been. Slowly but steadily we progressed closer toward the center of Pandemonium, my dolls coming and going as I called them.
“There it is!” I cried in success when we turned onto the longest hallway yet. At the far end, a giant slab of metal rose from floor to ceiling, taking up all the space from wall to wall.
A quick mental order had all my dolls score a marker into the floor with their swords before returning to me. They trickled back in ones and twos, gathering behind us while we looked up at the giant metal door.
“An oversized hatch? I have to say, this might just be worth it, Alice.” Ko floated up and tapped on the metal with her knuckles. “What’s inside?”
“It’s a really, really big vault! I think it’s where the goddess keeps all of her magic items.”
“All of them? You don’t say?” I could hear the excitement building in her voice. She might not care about magic in great detail, the thought of exploring, using, and learning about a fortune of never-before-seen magical items was more than enough to interest her.
Ko examined the metal hatch in greater detail. In the center was a circular handle that could freely spin, a single etched triangle marking its smooth construction. Presumably, it was built into the locking mechanism of the hatch, along with the five different levers marking the door. The levers could move either horizontally or vertically and slide into different notches in the doorway.
I assumed that moving the levers and the handle into their proper positions would unlock the door, but I wasn’t a master safecracker.
Neither was Ko. The redhead moved a few of the levers and spun the handle around before grunting and turning to me. “What’s with this locking system? Can you do something about this?”
“Do something? Like what?”
“I don’t know, magic it open?” Ko flicked her fingers at the door and uttered what she thought was arcane babble. “I want to see what’s inside!”
“It doesn’t work like that Ko.” Her crude imitation annoyed me. Casting magic wasn’t as simple as that. “I don’t know how this works. And it’s not like I can force it open. It’s covered in magical bar-” I paused soon after stretching my senses to examine the door in detail.
“You okay there Alice?”
“Uh, yeah. Just, it isn’t.” My sense of magic was rather sharp. Generally, I was able to unravel several layers of enchantments that Erk might inscribe into an object or that Yuki might spin into her spells. Even if given an entirely foreign type of magic to analyze, I could generally break down its parts and guess as to what the spell might do.
I was surprised by the hatch because of its lack of serious enchantment. It had all the basics in it – simple reinforcements, single-layered magic barriers, and anti-wear enchantments. There was also some sort of alarm spell strewn into the mess that would alert a single person through a pulse of magic if the enchantment was tampered with.
All in all, they were spells I could have crafted after my first few weeks of study.
“The magic barriers aren’t strong at all.” The possibility of there being stronger enchantments, completely hidden from my senses, was remote. I thought it was just a poorly warded door.
Ko was all smiles at my analysis. “Then you can get us in!”
“I never said that.”
“Come on, why not?”
“I think there’s an alarm on it. If I break it we might get in trouble.” I couldn’t imagine mother being angry with us snooping inside, but I was sure she would worry us to death if my last visit was any indicator.
“Everybody’s busy Alice. Besides, they told us to come down here, right? If they didn’t want us messing around with the highly curious vault full of intriguing magical items, they should have put us somewhere else.” The devil draped over my shoulder whispered her deceitful reasoning into my ears.
“I don’t think…”
“Come on, Alice. You’re interested in seeing what’s inside too, right?”
I pushed Ko off of me and sighed. “Yeah…”
Arguing with Ko was giving my mind time to remember my first accidental visit to the vault. The wealth of items was amazing and the attraction of whatever lay further in was mesmerizing. I couldn’t feel such a draw standing outside with Ko, but I could remember my interest.
“And if we can’t get in, there’s really nothing much else to do here.”
In truth, I only stopped exploring the first time because the goddess had pulled me out of the vault, concerned over my safety. She had fussed over my physical health, about what the exposure to the concentrated levels of magical energy in the vault might do to me.
But I knew better. I had been living and breathing magic for months. I knew spells specifically to protect against any ridiculous levels of energy I couldn’t acclimate to. I wasn’t some unaware human any longer.
“Sooooooo…” Ko poked my side repeatedly.
“Fine! Fine, I’ll do it if I can.” I ignored my friends smirk and walked up to the door. The alarm enchantment wasn’t well integrated with the rest of the spells. If I had to, I thought I could break the various low-level barriers without setting off the alarm.
The tougher part was the actual door itself. I had made a few simple locks out of curiosity and to help train my fine control, but something like the vault’s hatch was beyond me. I couldn’t unlock the door with magic without understanding it.
Probing the door, I tried to analyze its structure. That didn’t get me far. The inside was a mess of moving parts, of sturdy levers and rotating discs that were far too complicated for me to understand. What I could make sense of was the material composition. The hatch was constructed mostly of a lead alloy, but it was a strange mix of metals, completely what I expected from the goddess creating an object. It was-
“The door is all metal, isn’t it?” I smacked my forehead at the simple realization. I was hesitant to force open the door, but I felt confident in my ability to at least patch it back up until the goddess could come inspect it.
I put up an all-purpose barrier in front of me to catch any unexpected surprises and started to work.
Carefully taking hold of my magic, I weaved it around the lock. With the grace of a slow winter thaw, I melted the sections of the metal bolts that were slotted into the wall. Then, I siphoned the liquid out through a drainage hole and reformed the bolts on the ground next to me.
It was like cutting through the hatch with a blowtorch, but my method was more elegant and reversible.
My mass of dolls surged forward, latched on to the vault’s handle, and pulled. The door swung open, leaving bare the contents within.
I basked in the slight rush of energy that left the vault and washed over us. Success felt sweet.
“Excellent job, Alice!” Ko patted me on the back and skipped into the opened vault, giving one of the half-bolts a solid kick.
I flinched when it clattered along the ground and slammed into the crystal wall. “I’m pretty sure I can fix it…”
“Don’t worry about it. The goddess will get to it eventually. Onwards!”
Immediately inside the doorway were the items of the vault. Just as I remembered, various treasures were stacked in haphazard piles or strewn across tables and shelves without order. Room after room was connected to form a massive vault, creating the feeling of a sprawling cavern. The roped off path that wound around the items wasn’t wide enough for two people abreast, but I had the power of flight on my side. The airspace was somewhat crowded with fifty-some dolls floating around, but it was manageable.
“Look at all this stuff! No wonder the goddess always seems to have an item for me when I ask.” Ko bounced around from pile to pile and room to room, quickly making her way through the vault while picking up every item along the way. “Hey, I have one of these lamps!”
I was surprised to see all of the energy in the air. Blues, reds, greens, purples, teals, yellows, blacks, whites, browns – the subtle hints of energy wafted off of the magical items and swirled together. I could feel it covering my skin and filling my lungs with every breath. Amidst it all, a familiar sensation surrounded me, tugged on me, as I flew about.
It was nice. Comforting, in a way. Like a nice, hot bath, I could lie back and lose myself in it all.
But I didn’t. I was more confident with my magic, more accustomed to its allures. I shook off the comfort and followed after Ko while she made her way deeper into the vault.
“Hey Ko, I think you would like-” Dropping the particularly nasty specimen of preserved monkey paw, I glanced around for my friend. My dolls were scattered within the visible rooms, but the redheaded demon was nowhere to be seen. “Ko? Where’d you go?”
After skirting through a few more rooms and making a turn, I found Ko hurriedly walking along the path, ignoring the different weapons and rings sitting along the way. The deeper we went, the sparser the items became, to the point where each artifact began to have its own casing or stand.
“Ko? Where are you going?” I placed a hand on her shoulder but she kept walking.
The redhead didn’t bother to glance up at me as she shrugged off my grip. “There’s more interesting stuff further back.”
For a second, I agreed with Ko. The stronger items undoubtedly lay deep inside the vault. I wanted to go see them, too. Powerful magical artifacts were a treat. I felt compelled to go search them out. I felt a particular color of magic beckon like an inviting bed after a long day’s work.
I swallowed and rushed to grab Ko’s shoulder again. “I don’t think it’s safe, Ko.” The magic had sucked me in on my first visit, but I refused to let it do so again.
My friend didn’t respond. “Ko? Ko!” She wouldn’t stop trudging towards whatever goal drew her.
“Metabble, grab her.” The liquid metal golem surged forward to comply with my orders, wrapping around Ko’s legs and torso before solidifying.
“Ow!” The demon screamed, twisting her neck to glare at me. “What in the goddess’ name are you doing, Alice?”
I frowned at her. “You were acting strange.”
“Yeah? What about you? I don’t think that’s normal.” Following Ko’s head gesture, I turned around and looked up.
My dolls were everywhere, but not motionlessly waiting for me like before. They were scattered around, some trying to pry different magical items out of their restraints, others tugging on their counterparts’ clothes.
“What do you all think you’re doing? Come back here!” I shouted at the automatons and imposed my will on them. They straightened up immediately and floated back over. “Line up and stop moving around.” True to order, they formed rank and stood at attention, picturesque of perfect discipline.
“Now Ko, I don’t think-” I paused when I saw Ko smirking. Turning around once more, I found my dolls already floating off. “I said stop!” I focused once more and didn’t let go, keeping all of my attention on my creations. “What’s wrong with you all?”
The dolls were automated to follow me and come to my defense but little else. Without my explicit orders, they shouldn’t have been wandering off on their own to any significant degree.
When I glared at the dolls they squirmed and hid behind their siblings. Perhaps the problem, I thought, was me.
There were attractions everywhere, numerous items I wanted to examine. I fought the alluring impulses, but perhaps I was simply shifting my desires? My creations reacted to my emotions and instincts as much as any conscious command – was I accidentally ordering my dolls around?
Calling Metabble back to my side, I examined the metal golem. If that was the case, why was Metabble still well-behaved? Was it just because I had the liquid metal golem on tighter orders to stay by my side?
“Ko, do you think that there’s something in here that’s- Ko? Not again!” When I turned to talk to her, she was gone.
I shouldn’t have called Metabble off.
“Come back here!” My friend could move quickly. I chased after her, passing by room after room where the number of items lessened and lessened while the pull of energy grew stronger and stronger.
I found Ko standing still, next to the single pedestal in the center of one room. I landed on the floor and began to walk over but was stopped by a tug on my hair. “Ow!”
Behind me, Luminita was holding onto my hair and wildly gesturing to the mob in the air.
My dolls were brawling. They punched and slapped each other, yanking on each other’s hair and limbs. One orange-haired doll lost her head while a little brunette had both her legs pulled off. Some of the dolls tried to break off, all in the same direction, but my other dolls stopped them.
“Stop it! Stop it!” I couldn’t let my creations slip from my mind. Whatever was in the vault was causing them to act up in the worse way. Whatever my inclinations were, I knew that we had to leave.
“We definitely shouldn’t stay here. Ko! Let’s go!” The slight shift in my attention to yell at Ko was enough for some of my dolls to begin to move. “Hey, Ko!”
When my friend didn’t respond, I took the chance of letting my dolls run amuck in order to confront her.
Ko was still in the center of the room. Drawing closer and moving to her side, I saw that she had taken the item from the pedestal and was holding it in front of her.
It was an eyeball.
The grey eye was staring back at Ko, the single pupil dilating and constricting at a steady pace. Magical energy was pumping out of the eye. When I focused, I could feel the energy swirl around Ko, could see it drift into her head through her eyes and ears, nose and mouth.
“Let that go, right now!” I shouted at the redhead but she didn’t respond, just as before. “Ko!”
I lashed at her with my hand, the slap to her face connecting with a satisfying crack.
My strength wasn’t enough to force Ko’s head to turn a single degree, but the redhead did look up at me. The look in her eyes was almost…murderous. She growled at me in a low tone, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Put that back!” I screamed and tried to strike out again, but my arm was frozen in place.
Ko never looked at me like that. Never ever.
My closest friend always had the best in mind for me. She cared. Even while her body was possessed and attempted to kill me, she never wished me harm.
Why was she looking at me like that?
“No way,” Ko snarled back at me. “I can see with this!”
I did my best to steady my breathing and glanced at the eye. That creepy item was the problem. “You don’t need it, Ko. It’s dangerous.”
“With this, I can understand…everything…” Ko breathed the words, her attention already shifting away from me and back to that monstrous eyeball.
Before I could decide what to do, the energy in the air began to cackle. It jittered and sparked, as if a magician was stirring it into a frenzy. It wasn’t me causing it.
Ko lifted the eyeball up closer and closer to her face. She was staring at it relentlessly, not even blinking.
The magical energy grew denser and concentrated around Ko’s own eye. The eyeball in her hand began to roll in place, rocking back and forth in her palm.
I could have sworn I saw her eye begin to bulge outwards.
“Stop it!” Metabble whipped outwards, wrapping around Ko once more. The redhead struggled, her arm still outstretched in opposition to the liquid metal golem attempting to bind her. My dolls swooped downwards, flying by Ko’s hand with blades unsheathed. The used the flats of their swords and swung, the sixth doll managing to connect and swat away the eyeball.
The effect on my friend was instantaneous. She struggled and screeched. “No! NO! GIVE IT TO ME!” The demon fought against my golem as hard as she could. Somehow, she managed to reach her knife, the ever-sharp weapon poking out of Metabble. Once my dolls confiscated it, the demon was helpless.
“We’re leaving.” With Ko firmly in place, I fled the area. The majority of my dolls followed me immediately. “I said, we’re leaving!”
Through force of will, I dragged my friend and my creations out of the vault. It was tempting to explore more but concern for my friend, my family, sharpened my mind and bolstered my willpower.
However, when we reached the hatch door, I slowed to a stop. Floating at the entrance, examining the open door, was a certain green-haired ghost.
Ko’s quiet litany was the only sound that could be heard. “Let me go let me go let me go let me go…”
My friend’s mumbling drew the attention of the witch. “Oh?”
“M-Mima?” I never expected to find the ghost down in Makai, let alone in Pandemonium. “What are you doing here?”
“Why if it isn’t Alice?” The witch smiled at me and floated by. “I must say I was surprised to learn that the demons had taken you in, but to find you here of all places? What strange coincidence.”
“Did you open this door? I must thank you for that. Whatever multitude of protections that were probably put on this door would not have been easy for me to dispel.”
The older witch picked up one of the many magical wands standing in a container. “These are all rather weak items, aren’t they? Then, logically, the stronger items must be in the back.”
I sucked it up and overcame my confusion. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Finding the strongest and most useful magical items in this vault, of course.” The witch chuckled and turned her back to me. “Now Alice, run along. I have work to do. A girl, especially you, should go enjoy her life.”
Mima disappeared from view, leaving me standing at the entrance with my dolls and a wrapped up demon.
What was she doing here? Was she acquainted with Shinki and the others? I had the feeling that Mima definitely should not have been rummaging around in the vault.
[ ] Went upstairs… -[ ] And let Ko rest in my room -[ ] To talk with Shinki -[ ] To report to Yumeko [ ] Headed back into the vault… -[ ] And followed Mima -[ ] To talk with Mima [ ] <Write-in>
>Inevitable The only inevitably in this story is me not writing to the schedule I would like because I fall sick during my free time.
>Games Who knows how those will play into everything, yeah? I mean, obviously, if the events of Mystic Square were occurring then Yuuka would be running around slapping demons silly…wouldn’t she?
I turned away from the vault and flew down the hall, dolls and Metabble in tow. The scratches my dolls etched into the walls guided me back towards where my mental map could be used.
My friend was my primary concern. She seemed better than before, but she was still moaning quietly. She needed rest, and probably a more comprehensive exam than what I could provide. If nothing else, I could let her lie down in my room.
The formerly crowded halls were devoid of life. The constant traffic of demons that had been scrambling around was nowhere to be seen as I flew to my room. We had only been downstairs for an hour or so – it gave me an eerie chill to find everybody gone.
“Lie down here, okay?” Metabble floated down onto my bed and dribbled off to the sides, leaving Ko placed comfortably in the center.
The redhead immediately rolled over and put her hands on her head. “Ugh, my head hurts…”
I smiled, glad that she was acting like her usual self. “Will you be okay Ko?”
Her voice was muffled by the fluffy sheets, but it was easy enough to guess what she said. “Someone stop the pounding.”
I glanced over at Luminita, the silver-haired doll staring back at me. “I think she’ll be fine.” The doll nodded and rubbed the demon on the head. Ko groaned.
With my friend taken care of, my mind turned to the other problem I faced. I left Ko on the bed and kept around a third of my dolls with her to keep watch. “She won’t be mad, will she?”
Walking through the empty hallways, I bounced my thoughts off of Luminita and my other dolls. “I mean, if they reaaaaally didn’t want anybody in there, they would have made it tougher to get in. Right?”
My dolls floated around me, playfully twirling and dancing around in the air. “Maybe Mima is friends with Shinki and got permission?” They gave me a variety of responses, from silent cheers to flailed arms of disbelief.
“Can’t someone give me any useful-” The floor and walls around me shook, causing me to stumble to the side. Metabble rose up and cushioned my impact against the wall before propping me back up. “W-What’s h-happening?”
Off in the distance, I heard something that sounded like explosions mixed with the crash of crystal. I stopped walking and flew, zipping down the empty halls towards the source of the noise. I had to double back occasionally as the acoustics of Pandemonium threw me off, but eventually I drew close to the commotion.
I wasn’t sure what room was ahead of me, but there was a battle of some sort going on. However, the door leading to that room was closed. Standing in front of the closed door, unsurprisingly, was Yumeko. The blonde maid was speaking with a rather scantily-clad grey-haired woman with pointy ears.
“-on schedule, then. Have the second medic group on standby in hall two seven for when the goddess- Alice?” The maid noticed me as soon as I began my approach, the cloud of dolls hanging around me unfit for eavesdropping.
“Um.” The maid approached me with the same calm demeanor as usual, yet I was suddenly clamming up. “Hi.”
Yumeko nodded at my greeting and cut straight to the point. “What are you doing up here? I thought I asked you to stay downstairs.”
“Well, I was down there-”
“Where is Ko?” Yumeko interrupted me almost immediately, having analyzed my companions and finding the most troublesome one missing. “Don’t tell me that child ran off again.” The maid turned away from me and to the other demon. “Send out a search team to-”
“No she didn’t!” I shouted. After pushing my hair back I continued, “She’s resting in my room.”
“I see. Why is that?”
“W-Well, uhm…” It was so difficult! Yumeko’s gaze, despite being rather neutral, reminded me of my less than appropriate actions. “There was a little…problem?”
“Problem.” It wasn’t a question, but more of an expression of disbelief.
“Yeah. Uh, there was this eyeball…”
“I guess it was sort of, uh, tempting Ko?” I chuckled haltingly and twirled a lock of hair around my finger.
“An eyeball. Tempting Ko.”
Yumeko leveled her gaze a moment longer at me before making her conclusion. “You two discovered the vault downstairs?”
Technically speaking, I had already found the vault before, but I didn’t think Yumeko would appreciate my honesty. “Uhm…”
Taking my lack of an answer for confirmation, Yumeko turned to give an order to the underdressed demon behind her. “Have the second medic group attend to Ko in Alice’s room instead.”
“Yes M’am.” Drawing her cloak around her, the demon subordinate disappeared.
Then it was just Yumeko and me in the hall. The maid knelt down next to me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Alice, I hope you understand that some of the artifacts that the goddess has collected are powerful. They have something akin to a will of their own, which is why even the goddess rarely uses them. Their power is alluring, even from far away. That is the reason we keep the vault closed and secluded.” Yumeko shook her head and sighed. “To think that our goddess forgot to close it again is ridiculous.”
When I didn’t respond, Yumeko gave me a questioning look.
I tapped my fingers together and slowly broached the next topic of discussion. “Mother closed it. Just, uhm, I opened it.”
“You-” My news was finally starting to affect Yumeko. The maid stood back up and started to pace. “How badly did you break the door?”
“Not too badly. I melted the bolts…but I can put them back! Uh, I also broke the enchantments…but they weren’t very good to begin with! I can make them better! And I…ah…” I let my excuses dwindle away to nothing.
Yumeko was glaring while she paced. Her anger wasn’t directly aimed at me, but I could feel its effects. “Tsk. I suppose relying on secrecy and seclusion was a mistake. I will need to contact others about repairing and improving the lock. Of course today’s events could not proceed smoothly. Why would they? I suppose a broken lock and an unexpected, rambunctious intruder are not the worst that could have happened.”
“Intruder? You know about Mima already?” Yumeko’s venting gave me a segue to the final topic I had to discuss.
Yet, Yumeko’s confused reply caused my confidence to slip away. “I was referring to that disruptive little witch raising havoc in the city. Who are you referring to?”
I took a breath and tackled what now seemed to be the most worrisome topic. “Someone else in the vault. She’s a ghost-witch I met on the surface once.”
“Someone else is in the vault?” The blonde demon dumbly parroted my words.
Then she exploded in activity. The strange feeling of calm anger was replaced by unfettered urgency. Without so much as a word to me, Yumeko ran past me and down the hall.
I blinked in surprise. Not even a second passed before Yumeko was out of sight. I only saw her take a single step, but that movement had launched her down the hall, leaving my hair and skirt ruffled from the burst of wind.
“Hurry up everybody!” I yelled at my dolls while flying after Yumeko. She dashed down hallways faster than I could fly. When she made turns, she kicked off the walls to rapidly change direction.
I consistently managed to catch glimpses of Yumeko’s red dress just as she rounded a corner. I caught up to Yumeko once for a few seconds, but only because she had stopped after encountering a pair of armored demons. “M’am, report on the-”
“Not important! Gather any of the auxiliaries you can find and send them to the fallback rally point.” After barking her order, Yumeko was dashing off again. Slow to respond, the two armored demons eventually split up and also ran off.
If nothing else, I could infer that Mima was not a welcome guest.
Yumeko’s quick departure left me without guidance. What was I supposed to do next? My natural instinct was to follow Yumeko, to see the result of my actions, but there were plenty of reasons not to do so.
On the other hand, the sounds of battle had disappeared. Pandemonium was not subject to any anomalous shaking. What had caused those noises? Were the combatants okay?
Then there was the other ‘intruder’ wandering around Makai. Considering Yumeko’s description and the fact that Mima was in the vault, I had a very good idea of who it was. Paying the little witch a visit could prove interesting.
The last thought on my mind was Ko. My friend seemed to be fine, but I didn’t know for sure. Perhaps staying with her would be for the best?
I decided to…
[ ] Follow Yumeko [ ] Check on the previous sounds [ ] Investigate the other intruder [ ] Wait with Ko [ ] <Write-in>
Huh. That turned out to be a lot more uneventful than I was planning.
>>11534 Well, I could’ve put that in, but it’d be rather useless. If the vault isn’t opened, there’s nothing left to do and we’d be back at the previous choice minus an option. I guess randomly wandering the featureless hallways could’ve been a future possibility…but that leads nowhere useful story-wise. It could work, but that’s a long and drawn out situation (we’ve had enough of those already) I would not want to write.
I decided to investigate the other intruder. I was hesitant to leave Pandemonium, but it had become the safest bet.
Ko would be fine in my room. Between the dolls I left with her and the demons Yumeko had sent to watch her, she would have all the aid she needed.
As far as I could tell, Pandemonium was a hazard zone. Yumeko seemed to think Mima was a large threat and, if I wasn’t mistaken, the Hakurei shrine maiden was probably roaming the halls. With both upper and lower floors fraught with danger, leaving it all behind was for the best.
Besides, I thought I could handle a silly little witch.
If Ko were up and about, she would find the situation hilarious.
Quickly making my way to an open landing I took off with two dozen dolls plus my trusty liquid metal golem.
It didn’t take long to figure out where I needed to go. Not even halfway across the frozen lake, I could see the wild release of magic over the city. A hail of pure magic bullets streamed in every direction, fake stars backed against the darkness of the cavern.
“She’s making a mess of the city…” Drawing closer, I could see the fires and the rubble. The tops of the tallest buildings had been scorched and pocketed with holes, all the barely aimed magic tossed around by Marisa easily destroying unenchanted stone. On the streets below, I could make out dark figures scurrying about, putting out fires and pushing the rubble into piles.
Above, the battle raged. Marisa was the center of attention, the purple witch spinning in place on her broom, hand glowing with the constant discharge of energy. Demons flew around her in loose loops, dodging the blasts of bullets.
I counted five different demons flying around Marisa. It was confusing – those five would have been more than enough to close in on Marisa and take her down. I wasn’t an expert fighter, but even I could see the obvious gaps in Marisa’s shooting that left her open to attack wherever she wasn’t looking.
Yet, it never happened. Marisa was free to unleash her directed barrages, the volume of fire wide enough to give the demon she was targeting trouble. A sudden burst of bullets managed to clip one of the demon’s legs, sending it tumbling in the air. I heard Marisa shout and focus her attack further, launching a tidal wave of shots at the temporarily disabled demon.
The magic smashed into the demon, magical bullets exploding on impact and ripping bloody gashes into their target. The demon’s body began to disintegrate under the firepower, its limbs quickly turned into strands of loose flesh.
“NO!” I rushed downward, to where the demon slammed into the ground. There, I took in the grievously injured demon and felt my panic grow. I recognized the cat-demon, the purple-haired waitress who always served me at my favorite café. “Hey, hey, Violet? Violet, you’re…”
Half of her face had been torn away, leaving it a raw and bloody mess. She opened her other eye barely enough to see me. “Messed up…” She whispered in a voice so low a gentle breeze could mask it.
I imagined her ears twitching and her cat tail swaying back and forth while she asked for what I would like to order. That wasn’t possible when her intestines had spilled out and became a second tail, or when her legs were no better than a bowl of noodles. “Alice…aren’t s’posed to…be here…”
I would have taken her hand, but I doubted I could touch her without accidentally tearing more flesh from her body. I could only watch her in despair, wishing to shed a few tears.
After kneeling quietly for another second, I clenched my hands and stood up, leaving my family members where she lay. Above me, I could see Marisa still spinning around, a whirl of inaccurate magic.
“…” My dolls responded to my barely thought commands which were little more than magic-backed emotions. The dolls unsheathed their swords and darted upwards, spiraling around each other as they closed the distance to their target.
The dolls split apart when bullets rushed by them. As they dodged the magic, some dolls managed to draw ahead of the rest. If I were smarter about it, I would have had them pull back and wait for the others so they could all arrive at once – but I didn’t care. The dolls couldn’t move fast enough.
The first doll zipped by Marisa completely undetected, directly from underneath the witch. I ground my teeth together when the lucky witch spun at the worst possible moment. My doll’s blade missed Marisa’s stomach and instead cut a fine line through the girl’s dress.
“Whoa-hoah!” I heard Marisa shout, finally noticing my doll after it flew directly in front of her face. “That was close! Is somebody finally going to-”
I couldn’t hear whatever Marisa squeaked next when another pair of my dolls flew by. I grit my teeth as they too missed. The purple witch’s erratic movements were too much for my dolls to correct for at the last moment.
The witch was still flying and hollering. “Hey!” After the three failed attacks, Marisa finally bothered to look at what approached her. “Get away from me!”
She surprised me by showing a modicum of intelligence. The witch turned tail and fled, zipping away from the dolls that pursued her from above and below.
“She’ll pay.” Metabble coiled around me like a spring and spun, constantly circling me as I drifted into the air. “She hurt them. That’s my family.” I began to pick up speed, until I was flying as fast as I safely could. “She’s not a brat. She’s not a pest. She’s dangerous. She’s killing my family!”
I didn’t pay heed to the shouts from behind me, the hollered words of the other demons who were now free of Marisa’s attention.
I focused solely upon the witch. Marisa had slowed down, in order to more accurately shoot at the dolls pursuing her. A few of my creations were turned into slag by the girl’s firepower, but that wasn’t a problem.
After all, she had slowed down.
Marisa was constantly glancing over her shoulder and all around her. She was learning in the heat of the moment, which was admirable. It let her see me approach from the side just in time.
Recognition shown in her eyes. “Hey you’re-” I slashed my arm forward, Metabble unfurling like a whip. It snapped from where it had coiled around me, the liquid metal only managing to cut the bristles from the end of the witch’s broom as she wildly dodged.
“What are you- Stop it!” Marisa started to turn again, bleeding even more speed and letting me draw level with her. Metabble struck out twice more. Marisa ducked the first strike to her head, losing her hat in the process. The second blow caught the bottom of her foot when she unexpectedly rose, shearing away the edges of her shoes.
“Stop, stop, stop!” Marisa raised her hand, her intent to spray point-blank stars at me obvious. I sneered at the attack and drew magic around me, deflecting the basic projectiles with ease.
Metabble flicked forward and caught Marisa’s broom again, this time sending the witch spiraling away. I smirked and darted forward, ready to capitalize on her lack of control.
A sudden burst of light forced me back. I drew Metabble to me in a shield, wary of any physical or magical surprises Marisa could have thought up.
When the metal golem condensed back into a sphere, I saw that Marisa’s whole body was alight with magic. She was burning her personal reserves in order to light up like a torch. She had turned completely to face me, the two of us floating across from each other in the air. “Your Alice, aren’t you? Why are you attacking me? This hurts!”
My remaining dolls gathered around me in the lull of the fight, although I was more than eager to cast them forward once more. The witch dared to speak up like that! “You…you! You think you can just complain when you’re the one killing my family?”
“Eh? What family? I didn’t blow up your village! I’m just practicing on these monsters-”
I screeched and surged forward, all of my anger and hate embodied the wail of a banshee.
“Wha-” Marisa froze for half a second, eyes wide, before unleashing her strongest blast of unrestrained magic yet. “Y-You’re crazy!”
I stopped in place and drew my knees to my chest. The reduced profile allowed me to weave a more concentrated barrier that could blunt the storm of stars. Marisa’s latest barrage poured forth from every part of her body, toes to scalp.
Even though my vision was completely obscured by the blinding light of the barrage, I could feel my dolls fly around the attack. Sure enough, Marisa could not sustain her assault on me. With her attention divided I broke free and charged, drawing Metabble into a wicked lance.
The witch was ducking and weaving, spraying her simplistic attacks to try and ward off my dolls. Her movements were aggravating – when Metabble speared forward it would only catch her side, drawing away only with a streak of blood and ripped clothing.
Marisa yelped with every wound, her movements only becoming more erratic as she panicked further. Instead of slowing down, the fear of death drove Marisa into frenzy, the little witch not choosing targets to fire. She decided to fire in all directions, escalating the volume of bullets again and again to form an expanding sphere of stars. She took all the pressure she had directed at me and multiplied it for every direction.
The volume of fire was enough that my dolls or I could not draw close to attack without fear of serious harm.
I was sure I could wait Marisa out. She was drawing exclusively on her own energy stores – she would exhaust herself quickly.
But I didn’t want to wait. I hated letting her have even another second. Around me, I pulled into existence dozens of metal spears, honing them with enchantments that would allow them to fly through the barrage whole or as molten slag.
It was perfect. Marisa’s simplistic defense wasn’t enough to save her.
I maneuvered the spears around to encircle the witch and charged them with magic. Nobody would hurt my family like that again.
I brought my hand down, launching the spears forward. They flew true, meeting the edge of Marisa’s defense of protective projectiles without a problem.
Then gouts of blue hot flame smashed into them from the side. I could feel the counter spells dispel the enchantments on my weapons before the cheaply-created metal was thrown off course.
Shackles of magical energy wrapped around my limbs, a cage of familiar blue ice forming around me. I tried to communicate with my dolls or Metabble, but it was fuzzy. My commands were obscured, the cage around me interfering with my magic. “No! Let me out! I’ll stop her! I’ll-”
A hand reached through the ice bars of the cage and messed with my hair. “That’s good enough kiddo.”
I wanted to shout in annoyance, but the simple contact flooded me with feelings of safety, of tranquility. “…Yuki?”
Turning around, I found the blonde demon grinning at me. “In the flesh! Looks like it’s my time to shine, eh?”
My friend ruffled my hair more. “What was that, Alice? I can’t handle myself?”
“I…” In only a few seconds, I felt like a silly child again. It frustrated me, but I couldn’t hold any anger at Yuki. “I didn’t say that.”
The fiery witch laughed and gave me one last pat on the head. “Sorry for letting you deal with things here. Take a break, okay?” She waved goodbye and flew around me, up to confront Marisa. I saw Yuki laugh and flick her fingers, a small jet of magic shooting forward into the cloud of never-ending projectiles. Then the barrage of magic abruptly ended, Marisa huddled on her broom, clutching her chest.
Mai flew into my field of view and blocked the rest of the battle from sight. “Are you injured, Alice?”
“No.” The icy witch didn’t engender the same feelings of calmness in me. I was more annoyed at her than anything – it was her cage that trapped me, after all.
“What are those along your arms?”
I glanced down to what Mai pointed out and shrugged. “Those are just scratches.”
“Come.” Mai dragged her cage, and me, down to the ground. She took us inside a building, away from any fighting in the sky. “You need to watch out for yourself, Alice. Your own health should be foremost in your mind.”
“But she was killing-”
“Yes, she was. It is of no importance.”
“How can you say that? That’s your family!”
“It is indeed. My family of fellow demons who, upon death, need a second of the goddess’ attention to return to me.”
I swallowed and shut my eyes. Again. The same disregard for death. It annoyed me, terrified me, that demons like Mai and Sara could accept death so easily. For the goddess’ demons, death truly was a trivial concern. Not an everyday occurrence, but not something to be feared.
The idea had horrified me but, after having lived in Makai, I wondered. My ideals were warping. Death…didn’t bother me as it once did. That it should have.
Hadn’t I just been trying to kill someone?
I sat down on the ground and drew my legs to my chest. Outside the cage, I could see the dozen or so dolls of mine remaining mimic me. “Why do you all need to suffer? Can’t you just beat Marisa up and send her back to the surface?” The idea of my family hurting, luckily, still repulsed me. “There’s no way a half-trained human could beat you all.”
“Indeed, but she is underprepared to face us. A minor accident could prove fatal, the worst possible outcome for all.”
“I don’t get it. Just knock her out!” Many of the demons surpassed human strength, speed, or ability, even the ones who seemed like ordinary shopkeepers.
Mai pulled over a wooden chair for herself into the entrance hall where we sat. “Alice, what do you do when you face one of us?”
“What do you mean?”
“Magically, how do you compensate for your physical abilities?”
“Um, well, barriers are really important because I don’t have the personal reserves for fast self-enhancement. So, I guess a whole lot of barriers.” Protecting myself, as all of my teachers extolled, was the most important part of combat. I had spent inordinate amounts of time learning the physical stances and magical spells I needed to shield myself from harm. The majority of my creations were, after all, meant to shore up my own inadequacies.
Even with the plethora of magical and physical shields at my fingertips, Sara and other demons found a way around them. Pillars of metal, force walls, and cloudy barriers all had their problems. Most of my sparring practice devolved into a variation of protecting myself while launching blind retaliation.
“What have you observed this Marisa to cast?”
“Stars. Force projectiles, some heat projectiles.”
“And your assessment of her combat ability?”
“She sucks.” It was a rude, but apt, description. “I mean, she isn’t even like Yuki. Her attacks are all direct, one-layered spells. There aren’t any delayed explosions or secondary effects to catch someone off-guard. She can’t protect herself with those.”
Mai nodded. “And with such capabilities, we are hesitant to let anybody engage her in combat at all, lest we overestimate and make a mistake.”
It made sense, in a way. Being too strong had its disadvantages. “But, isn’t Yuki, um, throwing fire at her?”
The blue-haired demon sighed. “She is.”
We stared at each other, wondering just how Yuki might accidentally explode Marisa. “Shouldn’t you be out there?” I asked.
“Perhaps. I would, normally, but Yuki sees this as an opportunity to handle a situation in my stead. She feels it is necessary to ‘make up’ for what I have done for her.” Mai shook her head and smiled. “I believe she has enough control to occupy one human girl. She has practiced with you since you began learning, after all.”
That was true, too. Despite Yuki’s flashy attacks and seemingly blasé attitude, she did put thought into her spells. She always considered the effects of her new spells whenever she tried them, especially when I was around to watch…or be practiced upon.
“So why isn’t Yuki kicking her out of Makai?” If the fiery witch could limit herself, it would be simple to over-power Marisa and shackle her.
“We are simply doing as we are told.”
I frowned at Mai’s cryptic statement. “I don’t get it.”
“Restraint. The goddess would rather us not fight at all; the smallest conflict could erupt into something greater. However, with this situation inevitable, we are not to escalate. Forcibly removing these humans from our home could incur disastrous responses from those above.”
I laughed, trying to imagine any of the guard from my old village attacking Makai. “I don’t think anybody on the surface is strong enough to fight all of you.”
“Perhaps not those who would care, but it is still best avoided. The true demons of the west, those vastly stronger than us, made the mistake of underestimating the humans of the surface. The goddess is acutely aware of coexistence’s importance.”
The logic didn’t add up for me. “So you just let her attack you? Kill you?”
“If it is necessary. This is the correct response for the current situation.” She said correct, but I doubted it. There had to be a limit to turning the other cheek. Letting Marisa run wild might not bring any negative attention to Makai, but it felt like a failing strategy of appeasement. What would happen when the dumb witch grew older, stronger, and still thought to kill demons for fun?
The two of us sat in silence while we waited. Eventually, I asked, “Will Violet be okay?”
Mai nodded, either familiar with what happened or simply assuming based on my outburst. “Yes she will. Once the Hakurei leaves Pandemonium, our goddess can turn her attention towards reconstituting our-” A cascade of screeching interrupted Mai.
High pitched, low pitched, erratic and sustained. There was terror in those voices, desperation and fear and hate. Even without seeing them, I could feel the spirits’ rage. “No way…”
Mai dropped her restraints and talked to me while walking towards the door. “Alice? What is happening? Do you know?”
“I think…they’re spirits?” It was reminiscent of the massive cloud of evil spirits I had met once in my life. Not on as large as a scale, perhaps, but there were more outside than the ones and twos I picked up for myself.
When we exited the house, I was surprised to find a number of demons standing around. I recognized a few of them. A couple were the ones originally occupying Marisa’s attention. Mai ordered them around without delay. “Spread out. Warn the patrols to stay clear of whatever is coming. Reach Iris’ squad if you can and recall her immediately.”
The demons split up and Mai flew into the air. I followed after her, curious as to what was happening.
“Alice!” Mai pushed me out of the way, back down to the ground, and threw up a large shield of ice.
It shattered into a thousand shards when a hammer smashed through it.
Mai kicked out, pushing off the tip of the weapon to gain distance. Magic flowed through her, launched in the form of a hundred icicles. The projectiles zipped forward and pin- cushioned their target.
He was a demon. I thought he was one of the construction demons, the ones that fixed up all the minor damage to the city that didn’t warrant the goddess’ attention. His armor didn’t save him from Mai’s attack. The magical icicles went straight through him. He dropped his hammer, which fell to the ground, and he soon followed.
“W-Wh-Wha-” I floated in shock at what just occurred. “Mai did you k-kill him?”
The icy witch didn’t turn to look at me when she gave her order. “Alice, run away.”
Before I could question her, Mai flew off, hands aglow with magic.
I looked around and wondered what was happening.
Demons were everywhere, many more than before filling the air. They were armed and armored, no doubt the same demons that had been running around inside Pandemonium and patrolling the city.
But they were fighting, almost indiscriminately. I watched as the goddess’ family turned on one another, using every method possible to kill their peers.
Why? I couldn’t understand it. There was no reason!
I cried out when Metabble suddenly reformed on my right, just in time to block a pulsing kick from a demon. I bit my lip and backed away, flinching when I heard Metabble wrap around the demon’s leg and break it.
Then I saw them. Blue and red were streaking through the battle space.
Black wings adorned Mima’s back as the ghost rocketed through the air. Around her, dozens of magical items were suspended, matching her speed as she flew. It looked as if she was simply running, but I could feel the magic emanating from her. Her course took her screaming past a number of demons. Each one she passed by turned, as if to intercept whoever was pursuing her.
It didn’t work. Yumeko followed Mima relentless, swords constantly being launched forward. They found sheathes in the items around Mima as well as those demons that were in the way.
It was horrible. Yumeko didn’t spare our family at all. Any demon that so much as looked at Yumeko with the thought of stopping the maid was ended. Yumeko barreled through any obstacle, powerful swipes of her arms beheading and bisecting any opposition her flying swords hadn’t skewered.
Some of those silver swords seemed to impact nothing before disappearing. Yet, they were all finding their targets. Like when I first met her, Yumeko was also targeting stray spirits.
I felt them in the air. Hundreds of evil spirits were spreading their malicious emotions, some going as far as to possess other demons. A few, I knew, tried to overtake me. It didn’t end well for them.
I frantically searched the airspace for familiar faces, for wherever Yuki and Mai were. I found them fighting in different areas. Each witch was a bright light of magic, fire and ice blasting away in the confused melee.
“Lady Mima! Wait for-” the squeal of a little girl drew my attention back to the chase. Marisa tried to approach her ghostly mentor but was suddenly knocked away, sent careening into the roof of a building. I watched the little witch land roughly and curl up, her head tucked into her chest.
Everything was wrong. Everything. I…
[ ] Ran away… -[ ] Back to Pandemonium, as stealthily as possible -[ ] And hid somewhere in the city [ ] Flew over to… -[ ] Marisa -[ ] Mai -[ ] Yuki [ ] Stopped my family from fighting as best I could [ ] Pursued the evil spirits clouding the air [ ] Followed Mima and Yumeko [ ] <Write-in>
I screamed in frustration and flew towards Marisa. I didn’t want to have to deal with the witch, but I couldn’t leave her alone and curled up on that rooftop. Why? I didn’t know, I just couldn’t. It wasn’t proper.
Flying through the battle zone was easier than expected. The majority of the demons were already preoccupied with their peers. Those that did target me were reliant on some sort of physical strike – something I could trust Metabble to guard me from.
There was a method to the madness. I assumed it was possession. With the number of evil spirits crowding the air, the weaker demons lost their bodies to the malicious entities. They fought ferociously, incessantly, compared to their sane peers. The ones constantly on the attack could be discerned from the demons who remained in control.
Those demons were like Yuki and Mai, or the heavily armed demons I saw associated with Yumeko.
I landed on the roof next to Marisa and sneered in disgust. The witch that was so gleefully lobbing magical bullets was quivering on the roof, oblivious to what went on around her. It was pathetic. She was like a little kid.
She was a little kid.
Was she even older than me? It took a few seconds to remember how old I was supposed to be.
Wasn’t I supposed to be a child as well? Why was I fine, while Marisa wasn’t?
She was a kid. Why did I expect her to be more?
I sighed. Already, my hatred for Marisa’s actions was seeping away. The childish witch was obviously out of place.
“Marisa, you should-”
My outstretched hand was swatted away. “Get away from me!” Marisa scrambled away on all fours, pulling herself along the rooftop in a desperate fashion.
The sudden rejection spurred my annoyance back to the forefront. “Hey! What’s your problem?”
“Stay away stay away stay away!”
I stomped after the witch, my upright strides easily catching up to her. “Cut it out and stay still!” I tried to grab Marisa again to keep her from squirming away and hurting herself, but the purple-clad witch rolled to the side and onto her broom.
Before I could work any magic, Marisa shot off. “Aah! L-Lady Mima, save meeee!”
“No, don’t fly up there!” If nothing else, the little blonde girl could fly. “Darn it! Protect her!”
My dolls took off immediately, doing their best to keep up with Marisa. After making my own minor preparations, I took to the air as well.
Flying through the battle was one of the last things I wanted Marisa to do. While I could trust Metabble to protect me, I had to watch out for Marisa. It was difficult for me to be aware of every possible threat.
Compounding the problem, I found myself continuously glancing farther ahead where Yumeko's chase continued. I was surprised that Mima hadn't been caught yet. The maid had knocked away several artifacts, spearing spirits and demon alike, yet Mima appeared to be undamaged. Despite initial impressions, Mima was not as desperate as she seemed.
Sane demons, Yumeko's subordinates, had joined the pursuit, but the additional bodies did nothing to slow Mima. The ghostly witch didn't need to rely on controlling demons she passed by - much like her pupil, she was an explosion of light. However, Mima's barrage was far beyond Marisa's.
Hails of stars were the least of the pursuing demons' worries. I could see the magical air-mines Mima left behind that would explode and launch magical shrapnel. There were swirling multi-colored spheres that whizzed around like boomerangs, whipping past the demons then back again, threatening to rip into their backs. I could feel translucent, dart-like bullets crossing in fields, a near-invisible net for the pursuers to shred themselves on. Trick after magical trick, hidden by the obnoxiously dangerous direct magic assaults.
Yumeko didn't care for any of it. She scraped by the obnoxiously large lasers, smacked aside the barrages of stars, and completely ignored the trickier magics biting into her sides. Even as her dress fell to tatters, she did not. I watched Yumeko drag her exposed leg straight through an acidic, flaming trap. The spell extinguished itself while Yumeko's skin remained near-flawless, a minor rash of red a non-issue.
The other pursuing demons were not built as sturdily. One demon was cut to pieces, his limbs and segmented body losing their momentum and falling to the ground. Another demon took a star to her chest, the bullet digging into her armor and exploding.
I watched one demon manage to get in front of Mima. As the ghost passed by, he reached out and grabbed her, his arms aglow with magic. Whatever strange persuasion Mima used on others failed on him - so she reached into his chest and pulled.
He wailed horrendously, the ear-splitting shriek far outpacing whatever guttural noise came from his vocal chords. It was a nerve-wracking, bowl-loosening scream that far outstripped any normal death cry. I could feel the demon's soul separate from his body, the ghostly witch pulling it out like picking an apple from a tree in one violent motion.
The sound was-
All too familiar.
I crushed any stray thoughts and refocused from the chase back onto Marisa. The little witch was still determinedly flying after her mentor, but she wasn't near fast enough. We hadn't cleared the spirit-filled, demon-filled airspace, after all.
My dolls could only do so much to protect Marisa. My creations wielded their swords and formed a loose net around the witch, intercepting any possessed demons and distracting them with dangerous swings. Their power, unfortunately, lay in their numbers. Spread out, out on their own, left each doll easy pickings for an insane demon. I bit my lip as doll after doll was ripped in two, each one a sacrifice to keep Marisa safe.
She wasn’t even concerned with her surroundings. For every demon she decided to shoot at, four others were warded off by my dolls. Worse, evil spirits flocked towards the vulnerable human girl. I did my best to remove the spirits from a distance, but it took concentration I could barely spare. Marisa was going to get herself killed.
“Look out!” I cried. The witch either couldn’t hear or me or didn’t care. The end result? A demon slammed into her, knocking her from her broom.
Metabble and my few dolls left reacted immediately, shooting after Marisa to try and break her fall. The dolls digging their metallic hands into Marisa’s skin must have been painful., but they managed to mitigate Marisa’s fall. The girl didn’t snap in half when she hit the side of a building and slid to the ground.
I put on a burst of speed and dived. The elephant-esque demon that had slammed into Marisa followed her down and was threatening to crush the girl underfoot. Metabble barely made it in time to slip around Marisa and provide a defensive shell.
It was a poor defense, though. The liquid metal golem didn’t have the strength to resist the crushing pressure for long. I could see the metal deform as the demon’s booted foot sunk deeper into the golem, closer to Marisa.
“Stop!” Magic spiraled around my hand and shot forward, coalescing mid-flight into familiar metal. “Get off of her!”
The flying metal twirled together into a spear-like projectile right before impact. The magic tore into the demon’s side with a wet slurp, knocking the demon off of Marisa.
Then my double-layered spell exploded, chunking the demon’s stomach.
Some sort of explosion was almost always the easiest second layer for spell. Even if the first effect was an explosion, it could always be followed by another, slightly delayed explosion. In Yuki’s opinion, there was no good reason not to throw an explosion into every spell.
I hurried over to where Marisa lay. The witch’s eyes were wide open, staring at the body next to her. When my shadow fell across her face, her eyes leapt to mine.
“N-No, g-go away. Y-Y-Y-You...” murderer, is what she thought to say. Or maybe killer. Monster. Perhaps something worse, if she knew the words.
It was...funny. Ironic, perhaps. Marisa was a child, but a good child. She might have slaughtered demons indiscriminately, but that was only because she didn’t understand. She saw them as nothing more than targets.
I knew they were people. I knew they had lives and aspirations. I considered them family.
That didn’t change when I looked at the corpse on the ground. In fact, nothing changed when I looked at the corpse. No bile rose into my throat. My heart didn’t flutter, my hands didn’t shake. I looked away, but only because there was nothing to see.
In the end, it was something that needed to be done. For one reason or another, I had to save Marisa. That was the only thing that mattered.
It was so easy. Was this how Yumeko, how Yuki, how Mai, saw it? Was that how they could fight so casually? For all my criticisms of the demons, it seemed I wasn’t much different.
“I-I-I d-don’t w-wanna…” I looked back at Marisa and knelt down next to the girl. Her broom was laying several arms lengths away, but even if it were closer she did not look prepared to run.
“Marisa, calm down.”
Marisa covered her face with her arms and curled in tighter. “D-Don’t hurt me! I’m sorry! Sorry sorry so please don’t-”
I frowned and gathered my creations. Metabble flopped up to my side, perfectly fine, and my last two dolls sat down on my shoulders; Luminita and another, a cute blonde-haired doll dressed in a maid uniform, perhaps unconsciously patterned off of Yumeko. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“N-No…no…” Marisa had averted her eyes, content with pretending to hide as much as possible.
What was I supposed to do? When I put my hand on her shoulder, she twitched in fear but didn’t try to run like before. “N-No no No NO N-”
“Shhhh…” I did the only thing I knew how to. I worked off of my memories, what felt natural. When I lightly wrapped my arms around Marisa, I tried to remember what mommy and mother had done for me. “You’re safe.”
Marisa kicked in my arms. “No no no-”
I stroked my hand in circle on Marisa’s back, trying to calm the girl down. “Safe. You’ll be okay, okay? Say it for me. Safe.”
“Shhh. It’s safe.”
Luckily for me, Marisa was confused and hurting. She didn’t care what I had done; she just wanted a warm body to cling to. The witch whimpered quietly and rubbed her face against my chest. I could feel the tears and snot smeared onto my shirt as the wetness soaked through and touched my skin.
Resting in the shadow of a building, it seemed as if we had become invisible. The fighting raged on without us.
Demons continued to flood into the area. They appeared in groups of five or so, each one looking more impressive than the last. The difference between the ‘civilian’ demons and the ‘military’ demons was painfully obvious. The demons dressed in their street clothes were readily identifiable as the shopkeepers, dancers and clothier that enjoyed their day-to-day lives. The other demons, the ones sporting plate mail or bladed arms were the ones that could be found drinking and fighting all day.
Bodies slammed into the earth around us, possessed demons quickly disposed of by their more elite peers. Yuki and Mai were blasting fire and ice. I saw Iris and a pair of others spinning, thousands of sparkling wires bisecting the air around them. Spirits wailed as their existences were snuffed out on the ends of magic weapons. More and more demons floated down to the ground, landing amongst the corpses, ready to rest and let others clean-up.
It was a true slaughter. The number of possessed demons killed in the sky numbered at least as many villagers I had seen perish. I couldn’t confirm because counting pieces of body was too taxing.
Metabble floated above Marisa and me, the liquid metal golem stretching out to provide a lean-to for us to sit under. The little witch was sitting with her knees curled up to her chest, eyes averted from all the death. “Are you feeling better Marisa?”
“…I guess,” she mumbled out.
I thought Marisa had recovered. At the very least, she had stopped crying and didn’t jump every time an arm bounced down in front of us. She was melancholic. I would have been worried if she could maintain her stupid excitement in such a situation. Still, something looked like it was bothering her. “What’s wrong?”
“You cut up my hat.”
I snorted and laughed.
“W-What’s so funny?”
Putting a hand over my mouth did nothing to stifle the laughter. I could feel Marisa slowly coming out of her shell due to her annoyance at me.
Then, a saw a splotch of red against the darkness and leapt to my feet. “Oh, there’s Shinki!”
“Makai’s goddess. Come on, Marisa!” I heard Marisa exclaim in surprise behind me when I flew upward.
The goddess was floating above the city, dressed in her usual red dress. The six large, purple wings at her back were non-standard, but glorious. I could feel the magic radiating from those wings even at a distance. They were reservoirs overflowing with sweet honey, alluring to any who could smell it. A retinue of armored demons accompanied the goddess. I recognized Sara clad in minimal armor, the shoulder pads and gloves I had seen in the past. She was speaking with Shinki.
“-down, Mother. These events were unexpected but-”
“They should not have occurred. That anybody would dare take my children from me-!”
I slowed down as I approached, the handle of Marisa’s broom bumping into my back. The small bursts of anger in the goddess’ voice kept me at a cautious distance away, practically unnoticed below the demons.
“Mother, please. Yumeko shall return soon. Until then, won’t you go back to Pandemonium or-”
“Sara, what is the status of the gate keepers?”
“…If you recover our losses, we’ll be at one-hundred percent.”
“I see. Have I been mistaken, Sara?”
“Of course not Mother! You’ve been absolutely correct-”
“Have I? Truly? You all do not resent me?”
“How can we, Mother? We’re here because we believe in what you’ve commanded of us, no matter what.”
“But what have I told you? I failed in the past, and it seems I’ve failed now.”
Sara outstretched her arms, the gatekeeper unable to keep her emotions in check. “You haven’t! We have been happy! We all want these last hundred years to continue on forever and ever!”
“It’s strange,” the goddess said, her voice quiet, contemplative. “I’ve never felt this way before. Excited to see my enemies’ fall, disappointed they hadn’t understood the threat of the humans, perplexed by an alien method of thought, proud to see my children grow…” It didn’t last. Anger rushed back into her voice as her emotions turned. “But never this. This, this sense of loss when they’ve been taken from me. Taken. They took my children. Mine! What gall they have! I-”
Sara’s shout seemed to subdue the goddess, calming her back down. “She was so strong to bear this loss. Humans are amazing. I was foolish to mock her for it.”
“Hey, why are we floating here? Is that the goddess?” Marisa poked her head over my shoulder.
I wanted to shush the witch, but her voice attracted the attention of the others. Shinki looked down and saw us, a small smile forming on her face. “Hm? Oh, Alice. How are you?”
“Sis,” the pink haired gatekeeper started to say, “I don’t think this is the best time for-”
“Sara, please, I’m trying to talk to my daughter.” Shinki floated down to where Marisa and I were, allowing us to enjoy her magical glow. My hesitation in drawing the goddess’ attention was almost banished by the sheer pleasantness of those purple wings. It was similar to basking in the sunlight. “Are you hurt, Alice? How do you feel?”
“I’m okay,” I lamely answered.
“I see. Have you made a new friend, Alice? I don’t recognize her.” The goddess’ eyes weren’t unkind. They were neutral, if anything. Not full of the warmth I had come to expect, but not the anger I had seen on her face before.
“S-She’s just Marisa, just a witch.” I expected Marisa to huff at my description, but the girl wasn’t paying attention. She was staring in awe at the goddess’ wings. “Mother, what’s going on?”
“You’re upset too, aren’t you?” Although I was the one talking with Shinki, it didn’t feel like it. When the goddess continued speaking, she was staring past me, her gaze unfocused. She was caught up in her own memories. “Yes, I see. It is my fault. I haven’t changed enough. I should have listened to Yumeko, even back then. It’s what I created her for, isn’t it? I’ve been too lenient for far too long. Why did I ever think my children alone could fight their tainted roots? Yumeko was right. You all are proof, are you not?”
The goddess left me where I was, perplexed by her non-sequiturs. She flew high into the sky and became Makai’s sun.
She pumped magical energy into the air, in enough concentration to be visible to the naked eye. It began to drizzle downwards, a rain of warmth that covered the city.
It was a rain of life. Once the energy had covered everybody and everything, the goddess held out her hand and began her spell. On top of every corpse, a tornado-like swirl developed. They rose up and then down again and again like a sea of pumps. At the same time the energy coalesced and stretched out from each corpse, a sticky slime that pulled destroyed bodies back together. The entire city was glowing, the more heavily mutilated corpses impossible to see underneath the magic.
After a minute, I saw demons begin to rise. Some looked normal, others had patchwork bodies of flesh. But they all rose, all stretched and groaned and looked to the sky.
“Everyone? Please, pay attention.” The goddess’ voice was crystal clear, despite her distance. It was more magic, brought about by an item that could make her voice resound from every wall. “I apologize to you all for the unpleasantness of this day. It’s fair to say that events did not go to plan. While the Hakurei shrine maiden is safely on her way, we have also suffered an attack of the worst kind.
“Today, our family has been split apart. More than those of you who were compelled to fight your peers, several of your siblings had their souls removed and spirited away. More important than the magical items taken, this unexpected intruder has kidnapped our family. Had I known this would occur I...it was my fault I did not know of this in advanced. It was the first of my mistakes, of cloistering us here. Yumeko has…
“Yumeko has not stopped the intruder, but something…Something seems to have stopped her. Our family is being taken from us, further and further away to-” The goddess’ speech was filled with pauses and slow silences. She was sensing the location of the Yumeko and lost souls, I presumed, and was making assumptions.
“I see. I had hoped it was not so, but I feel our family so far away. The intruder has, inexplicably, escaped to the far side of Makai. I...will not make judgments yet, but no one shall stop us from retrieving our family. In the past we suffered because I dared not to act. I will not make the same mistake. We will go to retrieve our family, no matter who opposes us.
“I understand that some of you never wish to relive the violence of our past. I understand your unwillingness to partake in such activities. Those who have lived up to my aspirations in heart and mind can stay behind and tend to our home. You who would do so have exceeded all of my expectations.
“The rest of us shall shoulder the burden. For a short time, we shall indulge in our impure thoughts, our base desires, to retrieve our family. Yumeko shall return shortly to better coordinate our plans. Until then, I ask you all return to your homes to prepare yourself appropriately.”
Once Shinki’s speech wound down, I saw the demons begin to disperse. Some wandered off, others congregated in groups. Many more began to form a rough line that weaved through the streets. I noticed that it was filled with the grievously injured demons, the ones that looked like poorly made dolls of flesh after the goddess’ mass revival.
The goddess began her descent to the ground, but I caught her on the way down. “Mother, what are you talking about? It sounds like you’re going to…to attack the other demons or something.” The ‘far side’ of Makai, I knew, could only refer to the metropolis where Sariel and the others lived.
“Alice, sweetie, it’s my duty to care for my family, at any cost. I thought that I could have my entire family be happy by separating us, but I see that is not the case,” the goddess explained. “My goal is to find whoever would disrupt my family’s happiness. I sincerely hope that my children remain uninvolved.”
“But-” I started.
“You should stay here, Alice. I trust that my children who will choose to remain behind can keep you company.”
“But-” I tried.
“I’m sorry, Alice, but I will be too busy to talk. I have to give everybody a proper body. Do not worry. Everything will be back to normal soon.” The goddess flew downwards to the long queue of demons, leaving me floating alone.
I noticed that the demons that had accompanied the goddess also dispersed. I thought Sara might stay to chat, but the gatekeeper was already flying off away from the city, perhaps back to her peers near the surface.
The only one who wasn’t busy was Marisa, but even she was looking around in rapt attention at the strange sights, the magic and the activity.
I sighed. “But that’s not what I’m worried about.”
“You’ll never survive like that.” The woman draped in red twisted underneath her attacker’s outthrust arm. Bright red light pulsed, catching the attacked in the chest and throwing him to the ground, a bloody hole the size of his head ending his life.
The red woman with white hair sighed and waved a gemstone through the air. The dead attacker’s chest quickly regenerated itself. The man himself sat up a moment later.
“Do you understand what you did wrong?” the woman asked.
The man sitting on the ground rose to his feet. “I think so.”
The woman nodded and turned back to the group array in a semi-circle around her. “Good. Do the rest of you understand? Should our home be targeted, this is one such move you could employ to protect yourself.”
The girl standing in the group took a step forward. “Mother, none of these western demons you’re worried about will make their way out here.”
“Perhaps, but we shall be prepared for anything nonetheless. If I could decide to flee here, than others might someday as well. Besides, this skill can be used on more than just a demon such as myself.”
A shout of pain interrupted the conversation. Another man lay dead on the ground, a hole blown in his chest. The culprit stood over the victim, crowing in success. “You’re right Mother. That is a dangerous ability!”
“Hey!” A different man shouted. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m testing what Mother just showed us.”
“You piece of shit, I’ll tear-”
“Now, now, children,” the woman in red soothed. She waved her gem once more through the air, the recently dead man returned to life.
He used his new life to leap at his killer. “Die!”
“I’ll kill you!”
“You damn coward!”
The group quickly devolved into a lethal brawl, those too slow to react falling to their deaths. The woman looked on with a frown. “Oh my. I had hoped that this group could play nice.”
The girl stood next to the woman, away from the fighting. She ran a hand through her light blue hair. “Mother, you knew that those in this group did not get along. Why would you continue with the lesson?”
“They wanted to learn, so I taught them. What they do with that knowledge is not up to me.”
“But you could stop them. You could order them not to fight and instead force them to work together.”
“Yes, I could,” the woman answered, while continually waving her gem in the air, “but where would that leave them? Bitter and unable to take the initiative. Minor spats such as these are good to relieve stress.”
“I don’t get it. You’re the one who is constantly telling us to get along and not to fight, to resist our demonic heritage.”
“Indeed I am.”
“Why? Why speak in such a way if you still allow this infighting?”
“Because this fighting helps them to grow.”
The girl grunted in frustration at the woman’s enigmatic smile. “I still do not understand.”
“Haha, of course not. You are young yourself.” The woman knelt down to revive a man who fell to her feet before continuing the conversation. “There was a human woman, once. She sought power and badgered me to give it to her. She was surprisingly strong but still no match for the power I had amassed in my travels. However, her motivation was ironclad. Even when I had her crushed underneath my fingers she wouldn’t give up. That spirit was terrifying. Do you know where she found her strength?”
“Yes, but no. Her strength came from love. Compassion, forgiveness, acceptance. All these emotions that are the antithesis to a demon like me.” The woman momentarily sifted through her memories before shaking them away. “When my home was destroyed by the humans, I wondered how my peers ever lost. I had correctly identified their lack of cooperation. The humans that hunted them worked together while my fellows did not. Yet, this human woman showed me what else made the humans stronger than us.”
“That is right. Belief, faith, understanding. All these and more have powered humans to astounding heights.”
The girl smiled in sudden understanding. “Then, you preach peace to us so we may become stronger.”
“Indeed. Or at least, that was my initial goal. Even as a demon, I think I can see the appeal of this.” Before the pair, their family had stopped fighting. The men who had been at each other’s throats were laughing and patting each other on the backs, boasting of their successful attacks and mocking others for their failures. Any murderous intent had fallen away in favor of camaraderie. “Constantly worrying over a betrayal from your closest associate in a power grab is no way to live. If given the chance, I think you all can choose to grow into something more than petty demons.”
“So it is our choice then?”
“Of course. You are all your own people. It is not my place to force you to act one way or another. I can only hope you live up to my ideal.”
The girl let the strange thought tumble around in her head. Choice, freedom, was a peculiar thing. Following was easy, but choosing for herself? It might be difficult, but the girl liked the idea very much.
Girl of Death, Part Three: Ghosts of the Past – End
Ko laughed at my question. “That’s right! They told me it was just too much magic clouding my senses after that item tried to gouge out my eye or whatever.”
Why were Ko’s descriptions always unsettling? Still, I was glad to hear my friend would be fine. “Thank goodness.”
The redhead shook her head and patted me on the shoulder. “Nah, thank you, Alice. You’re the one that slapped that creepy eyeball away.”
“I was worried about you.” It seemed like a natural reaction to me. I didn’t think much of it.
“And I appreciate it. Say, Alice?”
“What is it?”
“That eyeball…didn’t affect you?”
Ko’s phrasing was slow and unsure. “What do you mean?”
“You didn’t want to just, stare into it? See what it could see?”
“No? Why would I?”
“Mmm, good point. Sorry. I must sound silly.”
“No you don’t,” I assured her, “temptation is a real problem with magic items like that.”
“Yeah, yeah. Maybe you can whip a spell to help me out?” Ko asked half-jokingly, half-seriously.
“Uhm, maybe.” If I had a spell for such a condition, I would have used it on myself. If I hadn’t worried about Ko’s safety more than anything in Pandemonium’s vault, then I might have been pulled in by a powerful item myself.
I kicked my feet when the silence between us began. We were in my room, Ko and I sitting on my bed after walking around for some light exercise.
The medical demons that attended to her thought she should rest for another day or so just in case there were any hidden problems. I didn’t mind since she didn’t take up much room when she was sleeping alone, even if she became a tad clingy during the night. Besides, it was nice sleeping with somebody else in the bed - it kept everything warm and cozy. My room was always available for Ko to use if she needed it.
It was still morning, but that meant I had plenty of time to speak with Ko. When our eyes met again I decided to ask, “Does this bother you?”
“Does what bother me?”
The redhead grinned and stopped her teasing. “Not really. I guess? It’s certainly strange seeing the seriousness in everybody’s faces. I could never have imagined everybody preparing for something that wasn’t a party.” Pandemonium was once more abuzz with activity, much like during the incident of the previous day. “But that’s not what you’re asking me about, is it?”
I stopped beating around the brush and asked, “Are you really planning on staying here?”
“Do you honestly think I’m going to run off and follow them?”
“Yes.” The little devil had a problem with following orders. I couldn’t imagine her resting quietly when she was healthy.
“Haha, just kidding.” The redhead bumped her shoulder into mine, grinning all the while. “I’ll be around to keep you company.”
“I see.” She wasn’t a liar, but I still didn’t trust her seemingly sincere words.
Ko suspected my suspicions. She gave me her warmest smile and pushed me off the bed. “No need to worry about me anymore, so go on and do whatever it is you were planning. I’ll find you later, okay?”
Leaving my friend to rest in my room, I flew away from Pandemonium. I kept only two of my dolls with me, Luminita and the other survivor of the battle from the previous day. There was no pressing need to have any extra defense with me.
The city was wide awake with activity. Any demon that was not running around inside Pandemonium was in the city, busy with preparations. I saw store owners putting away their goods and restaurateurs handing out the last of their meals.
The blacksmiths and enchanters were out in force. Lines were forming as demons picked up weapons and armor and had them prepared for who knows what. I could pick out Luize standing next to a giant container, her bodied psyche-splits pulling out guns and passing them out. Mai and Yuki were down there as well, the pair of witches working together as they enchanted the arms brought to them.
The preparations were what worried me. While most of the demons seemed to be in good cheer, I could detect a subtle undercurrent in the activities. Much like in the previous city-wide scares, the demons were too serious. Whenever the demons strayed from their jovial attitudes, something was wrong.
Circumventing the large crowds, I found who I was searching for. I knew that some demons had given her a room in Pandemonium. I saw her fly off in the morning. I silently dropped down behind my target before speaking up. “Mari-”
“Wah!” The witch jumped and spun, her eyes wide with surprise. Marisa calmed down somewhat when she saw me, but she still clutched her broom to her chest as a safety. “Y-You s-scared me…”
I rubbed my eyes once before putting on my most comforting demeanor. “How are you feeling, Marisa?”
“Good, I guess?” Once Marisa saw that I wasn’t there to bite her head off, the witch’s confidence began to return.
“Have you been wandering the city?”
“Yup. There are so many things here, it’s crazy! The village never had half of the stuff you can find here!”
Marisa’s exuberance shined, as if everything that occurred before did not matter. Her sheer excitement at seeing the city for what it was made me feel nostalgic. It was not long ago that I had acted the same way as her. “That’s right. The goddess makes sure we have whatever we might need.”
“Wow! So you can just ask for anything and get it?”
“Yes, but we don’t. Usually, the goddess usually only provides raw materials. Everything from our clothes and furniture to our weapons and meals are made by us. Someone had to have the skill to create them.”
Marisa was fidgeting by the time I finished speaking, passing her broom from hand to hand. “Oh. So all these things are owned by someone?”
“Of course.” I narrowed my eyes at the girl, her question oddly specific. “Why? What’s wrong?”
“Uh, well…here.” Marisa fished around in her dress’ pockets and pulled out a shining circlet, a beautiful gold piece studded with rubies.
“Eh? What’s this?” I took the jewelry from her and turned it around in my hands. It was of superb craftsmanship, but otherwise a mundane adornment.
The witch spoke animatedly, waving her arms around to mime out the events as she saw it. “It was on this table in this building where the door was open. It was really shiny and, well, nobody was around…”
Who could be that stupid? “You stole this?”
“I didn’t think it belonged to anybody!”
“You can’t just steal things!”
“I didn’t think about it! There are only a bunch of demons around, so-”
“Stop.” There was a fundamental problem with that line of thought. “You’ve seen them, right? The demons living here.”
“You know that this is their home?”
“Why do you think it’s okay to steal from them, then?” Or hunt them, I wondered. It was what had been bothering me about Marisa ever since I first saw her. She killed without remorse because she saw them as less. From what I could tell, Marisa didn’t distinguish between demon and dog.
“Well, they aren’t human…”
“So? Do they deserve less respect because they don’t have a mother and father?”
“Because they dress differently and sometimes look different?”
“Because they’re stronger than a human? Because their home is filled with magic?”
“I get it, I get it!” Marisa shouted with her eyes closed while she stomped her feet. “That’s why I’m trying to give this to you. I know it was wrong to take it!”
She wasn’t a bad kid. Loud, annoying, and straddling the line between too powerful and not powerful enough, but it felt like she was only misguided. “I’m not the one you should be giving it to.”
When we returned to where Marisa found the item, the shop was as she left it - empty. Nobody was home, and no other items could be seen. “Just, leave it back where you found it,” I decided.
“But it’s really pretty…”
Before I could snatch the circlet out of Marisa’s hands, I heard the thumping of boots on wood. Sure enough, a rather slim demon appeared at the stairs of the store. “It sure is. Do you like it, little miss?”
Marisa hesitated, caught between my stare and the shine of the rubies. Then she answered without doubt. “Yeah, I do!”
The demon laughed and turned us around, gently guiding us out of the building. “Then you can keep it.”
“As long as you like it.” The store owner locked the door and moved on, leaving us standing in the street.
“T-Thank you!” Marisa called after, before giggling and slipping the circlet on her bare head. “Heheh, this is cool!”
I palmed my face. “I guess I should’ve expected that.”
“Whaddya mean?” The witch looked genuinely curious when she asked.
“Everybody here is family. Giving away what you make is only natural. Or, in other cases, letting them borrow what they need is fine too.”
Unfortunately, she seemed to receive the entirely wrong message from my words. “So it was okay to take it?”
“No! It’s not right to steal! It’s just that there aren’t many demons living here that would get angry for taking it, as long as you asked them or gave it back eventually.”
I grunted and sat Marisa down on a street bench, frustrated with the delays. “Anyway, this isn’t what I wanted to talk about. What are you planning on doing, Marisa?”
“Huh? What are you asking?” Marisa kicked her legs and fiddled with her new circlet while she spoke.
“You’re well-rested and full of energy, but you’re still here. Why?”
“And do you plan on staying here? Or are you going to home?”
“Yes,” I nodded, “back to whichever village you came from.”
“I don’t live in a village.” The answer was nonchalant.
It confused me, though. Practically every human on the surface found a home in a village of some sort. The Hakurei’s defensive net covered a number of villages and the smaller villages occasionally had a special defense, but living in a group was only natural. “Then where is your home?”
“Well, I guess it’s with Lady Mima.”
That was the answer I was afraid of. Marisa was close to her ghostly mentor, there was no doubt. But, that presented problems. Many, many problems. “Then…you’re planning on going after her?”
“I guess so.” Marisa’s answers became less and less decisive as the subject matter shifted.
“You shouldn’t. That ghost will do nothing good for you.”
“Don’t talk about Lady Mima that way!” she shouted. “You don’t know her.”
“Fine.” I paused. Marisa’s anger was infectious if I didn’t take care. “What I do know is that she went somewhere very dangerous. The demons where she went wouldn’t stay passive and let you kill them like here.”
I didn’t mean to sound harsh, but it was a real concern. The combat ability Marisa displayed would get her killed. If I could seriously threaten her, I did not want to imagine how she would not handle a stronger demon. Given how Marisa averted her gaze and remained silent, she knew it too.
“But you still planning on follow her?”
It took a minute, but Marisa finally came to a decision. “She’s my teacher. Of course I’m going to follow her. She’s all I’ve got.”
[ ] Speak with… -[ ] Mai -[ ] Yuki -[ ] Luize -[ ] Erk -[ ] Sara -[ ] <Someone> --[ ] About their plans --[ ] About their feelings --[ ] About <something> [ ] Stay in the goddess’ realm [ ] Head towards outer Makai [ ] <Write-in>
Not a particularly diverse set of choices, but the overall direction should be understandable: Look for further information or make a decision to stay in the city or go out into Makai. Comments on why you choose what you do would be nice, but I’m not expecting much. There is a lot of room for write-in preparation.
>>11641 True enough, but I don’t have enough important files to warrant it (because I’m lazy). For most of my things, a backup every few weeks is fine. My stories are the only files that really change constantly, and generally the updates don’t go un-posted for long. This was just a bad spot of luck.
Tough. The only thing i'm thinking now is that we CAN'T let Marisa follow Mima.
A: Mima doesn't seem to give much of a damn about marisa
B: She's going to get herself killed. Badly. The demons on the other side are aggressive, as was pointed out.
But as much as I want to just lock her down, I just feel like its going to backfire. Feels like it's set up to have Marisa escape and have us and Ko chase after her into the other part of Makai, shenanigans ensue. Dangerous shenanigans.
“Marisa, you don’t get it! Do you know how many times you almost died, just here? You can’t follow after Mima!”
“I don’t care!” The purple-clad witch yelled back at me. “Lady Mima is all I have so I’m going!”
Marisa’s obsession with her mentor made me curious. “She’s a ghost, isn’t she? Why don’t you go back to your parents? The village you were born in?”
“No way! They don’t want me, anyway.” The blonde witch crossed her arms and thrust out her chin.
Her words didn’t make any sense. “Don’t want you? That’s dumb, they’re your parents. Your family always wants you.”
“No they don’t.” The fire in Marisa’s voice died out. She idly kicked a rock down the road while she explained, “Pa has always hated me. Everybody else thought I was no good luck.”
“Bad…luck?” My chest tightened at the thought.
“That’s right. I always caused them trouble, ‘specially when I was trying to understand my magic. Even after I figured out how to put out the fires, they still didn’t like me.”
I exhaled in relief. Marisa’s magical growing pains were normal, relatively speaking. I didn’t know how I would react if she had also been burdened with my problem. “But, even your father-”
“Him worst of all. Always yelling and shouting and throwing me out. I’d be better off in the woods than with him.”
“How can he do that? That’s not right! Why didn’t your mother stop him?”
Marisa gave me a funny look before shrugging. “I don’t have a mother.”
“She died when I was born,” she answered plainly. “I never got to meet her.”
“I’m sorry.” It was a standard reaction, consoling words that meant next to nothing, no matter how heartfelt they were.
“It’s okay. I hear she was a nice lady, but Pa didn’t even want to show me any pictures. Though, I snuck into our attic and saw a painting of her once. She was pretty pretty.”
“I can’t imagine not knowing mommy.” I winced almost immediately after speaking. It was a horribly insensitive comment
“Well, I can’t imagine knowing her, but it ain’t that important.” My faux pas didn’t seem to bother Marisa. The little witch quickly began to brighten again once she continued. “I mean, sure, things might’ve been better if she was around to help me, but it didn’t happen that way. Instead, I got to meet Lady Mima! She didn’t want me at first either, but eventually she agreed to teach me!”
“So that’s why she’s important to you.”
“Uh-huh! Lady Mima has done everything for me that all those dummies never did.”
“Well…” Arguing further wouldn’t get me anywhere. Mima was a person dear to Marisa’s heart. If somebody told me to turn on my parents, I wouldn’t listen to them either. “It’s still dangerous!”
“You should tell me before you go somewhere, at least.” If Marisa was determined to go after Mima, then an escort was a must. First, to protect her from the dangers of Makai. Second, to protect her from demons, both the ones I knew and the ones I didn’t. I doubted Yumeko or anybody else would kill a human, but there could be an accident if Marisa tried to defend Mima.
“…I can do that,” Marisa conceded.
“Okay. Good. I have to go. Don’t cause anybody else more trouble!” The child witch assured me she wouldn’t. I didn’t believe her, but I had more people to meet, so I left.
I needed someone to talk to, someone knowledgeable. Someone trustworthy, that wouldn’t just gloss over what was happening.
When I knocked on Erk’s door, it wasn’t my magic teacher who answered. His mud servant, Aht, was the one who faced me on the other side of the doorway.
“Eh? Master? He’s not here,” she told me when I asked.
“Not here?” I stepped inside the house and sat down on my chair at the small dining table inside. It felt strange, sitting down without the purple haired magician sitting across from me, reading a book or scribbling notes. My second home in Makai felt empty without its true occupant. “He’s somewhere in the city?”
“No…” The voluptuous mud girl answered from where she stood, arms held behind her back.
“Then where is he?”
“Master didn’t want me to tell anybody…”
I smiled at her innocent devotion to orders. Fortunately for me, her innocence could be abused. “I’m Erk’s student and his family. He always tells me everything, remember? Besides, I already know he’s not here, so why not tell me where he is?”
“Oh, um, I don’t really get it,” Aht looked conflicted for only half a second before smiling. “But you’re nice like Master, so I guess it’s okay!”
She was an adorably simple girl. It made me slightly depressed that some of the spirits wandering Makai were from good people like her.
“Master left to go ask for help!”
I frowned. “He what?”
“Ask for help, on all those scary spells he’s been trying!”
“Scary?” I asked, trying to understand what the simplistic answer meant.
“Mhm. The ones that feel like they’ll turn you into nothing.”
“Oh, I see.” Naturally, Aht was referring to Erk’s focus of study for the past year, the variety of soul-based spells he had been researching. From curses and hexes to spiritual enhancements, the magician had been scouring over every source availble. “Did he tell you where he went to ask?”
“No. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine.” I didn’t need Aht’s confirmation to guess where Erk went. We had talked about it once, after all.
Information on curses and souls was limited in the city. The go-to source for new books, Shinki, was someone Erk refused to involve of his own volition. Erk would need to look elsewhere.
One option was the surface, but that was a gamble. Erk would need to find an old and powerful youkai or an extremely talented human, neither of whom might be willing to help.
I sighed. “When did he leave, Aht?”
The second option was other demons, as I had once suggested. Given the nature of the demons inhabiting the other side of Makai, someone likely knew something. Elis had proclaimed we could find anything in the metropolis, after all.
More to the point, Erk had snuck away on Ko’s birthday. Luize and a few others had been visiting the surface with somewhat regularity. If my magic teacher did not want anybody to know where he was going, there was only one real, essentially prohibited destination I knew of.
The non-city demons were, arguably, more demonic if their aggression and society could be extrapolated. They flouted everything that the goddess liked to emphasize. There was no sense of family in that massive urban jungle. If anybody had age old information on curses and souls, it was likely someone over there.
I was annoyed. He might not have done it intentionally this time, but Erk loved to try and avoid my tough questions. It was like some twisted god was messing with me.
There was nothing I could do. Unless I wanted to hunt Erk down myself, I could only wait until he returned on his own. I thanked Aht and left the mud girl behind, off to wander the city. I floated through the sky and idly watched the demons make their preparations, more caught up in my own thoughts.
Kidnapping. However many demons’ souls Mima took with her was too many. In that light, a rescue operation like the one that Shinki and Yumeko were undertaking seemed wholly appropriate. The idea didn’t sit well, though. It couldn’t be as simple as the goddess described.
What drove the ghostly witch? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t even know where to begin speculating. She wanted power? What for? Why did she kidnap my family? If the goddess could identify the souls, did that mean Mima did not ‘eat’ them? Did the ghost care for Marisa at all? How familiar was she with Makai? With demons? There were hints and pieces of information floating around that I couldn’t connect on my own.
Before I knew it, I was floating downwards. I had made it back to where Luize was handing out weaponry. The container that the business demon was pulling guns out of was already empty; her bluish splits were working to seal it back up.
Luize noticed me quickly enough. “Greetings, Alice. How may I assist you?”
“How are you, Luize?”
“Me? I am fine. Business is running smoothly, at the moment. Was there something you wished to ask?”
Did I? If Erk wasn’t around to answer my questions, I supposed I could talk with others. “Yes, but maybe you need to be…all there to answer it?”
“Truly? One moment, then.” After a quick barked order, all of Luize’s split bodies returned to her. The change was immediately noticeable. Every split of Luize contained some fragment of an emotion. “So, what’s the question, Alice?”
I tried to think of a more specific question to ask but couldn’t. I ended up with something generically lame. “How do you feel about all this?”
“You mean these preparations? What we intend to do?”
“Well, I don’t have much of an opinion. I would rather stay at home and work on this new blueprint I bought, or maybe visit the surface again and talk with the humans, but this is something we have to do.”
“So, you’re okay with all this?”
“I guess I am. We need to punish the one who would attack us and kill us, would kidnap our siblings and take them away.” Luize pulled a pistol off of her belt and fiddled with it while she spoke. “While I doubt that most of those living on the other end of Makai wish to fight, I also doubt they would readily let us in armed as we are. If they see our arrival as an invasion of their independence, as the goddess’ imposition of her will upon them, then I have no doubt they will fight us. After all, everybody living away from us had doubts about the goddess, however small.”
“I don’t get it.” I understood what Luize was saying. Shinki and Yumeko’s plan would almost doubtlessly cause a conflict with Sariel and the others, in everybody’s opinion. What I didn’t understand was the why. Were relations in the family that bad?
“I suppose you wouldn’t. I’m afraid I won’t be the one to help you understand, either. As a bystander fighting to survive, I was not particularly involved with the events one hundred years ago.”
“…I don’t get it.”
“Sorry, Alice. I doubt speaking for a few minutes can help you understand. Nevertheless, it is not particularly important to understand at this point. In a few days, everything shall return to normal. If you will excuse me, I still have a few shipments to distribute.”
“Oh. Sure.” I waved goodbye to Luize, who quickly split herself and flew off, the large empty container carried off with her.
I stood alone on the street before screaming. “I don’t get it!” My dolls floated around me, waving their arms to try and calm me. “Why is everybody so stupid, Luminita?” The doll, naturally, had no answer for me.
I flew off again, bleeding my frustration into the air. My flight eventually took me outside of the city, where I found Sara and dozens of other demons. They were lined up in a neat square formation, conducting drills of some sort in the hills. I watched for several minutes as the group broke apart and came together, whirling through the air like a swarm of buzzing hornets.
Once the demons appeared to stop for a break, I approached the pink-haired gatekeeper still jogging in place. “Sara!”
“Sis?” The demon flew up to greet me, full of energy despite the high-speed maneuvers she had been practicing. “What are you doing over here, Sis?”
“I was just watching. What’s happening here?” I asked.
“We’re fitting in some last minute drills before we head out. I think everybody is in top form today!” Sara pumped her arms while she spoke.
“Oh. You’re excited, then?”
“Excited? I wouldn’t say that.” The bouncy energy Sara normally exuded began to dissipate. “I would much rather everybody relax and go back to enjoying themselves.”
Her reaction surprised me. Sara had two modes as far as I was concerned, on and off. She was either sleeping or running around training and sparring. “You don’t want to fight?”
“Of course not. I hate the idea of attacking any of our family.”
The outside-obsessed demon didn’t mind fighting, but the martial-minded gatekeeper did not want to? “Then, why are you going? The goddess said you could stay here, didn’t she?”
“She did. However, my duty requires me to go.”
“Why? What duty? Aren’t you a gatekeeper?”
“I am. My duty is to protect my family. All of them. If my family is going to fight amongst ourselves again, I need to try and stop it.”
Sara spoke passionately, instilling a sense of hope in me. “Stop it? Then, you’ll talk to everybody?”
“Not…quite, Alice. We exist to fight.”
“Back when mother created Makai and all of us, there were no roles to play. We had the choice to do what we wanted. After the…disagreement of a hundred years ago, after the partition, those of us who chose the goddess were remade. We were given purpose.
“Ours, as gatekeepers, is to protect our peers. Not just from outsiders as you might expect, but from ourselves. An excess of emotions, of our demonic heritage, is dangerous. We are to be the embodiment of order and control. If everybody else loses themselves, we are to stand strong as mother has dictated. If Makai were to burn into a fiery hell of old, we would be the ones to contain it. We would stop our family before any demon might draw the surface’s ire to Makai, before everybody is purged.
“We protect all our family, by any means necessary. In a situation like this, we have to intercede before events spiral out of control again. So we will fight.”
The extreme situation Sara described sounded unreal, impossible. The escalation she feared was ridiculous. How could Makai, full of patient and kind demons, turn into a place of fire and brimstone? “You all don’t need to do this, do you? Can’t Shinki just find Mima and bring everybody back?”
“I doubt it. Mother is far from all powerful. Hunting down a single ghost, and only that ghost? It takes precision and skills mother does not have.”
“What about Yumeko? Can’t she find Mima?”
“She could, but sending Yumeko on her own presents a host of other problems.”
“Well. If there’s one person every demon over there fears or hates, it’s probably Yumeko. She can be kind of…extreme, if you cross her.” I didn’t even need to know about the past to understand that. Anybody who could act as a perfectly polite maid and an unfeeling killer was bound to be polarizing. “Besides, that would keep Yumeko away from mother for far too long.”
“Why is that a problem?”
“Mother is a demon, Alice. A true, real demon. Yumeko is…her counterweight. Her personal gatekeeper, you could say. Nobody else in Makai can influence mother as much as Yumeko.” Sara shrugged her shoulders. “But I’m straying. Yumeko on her own isn’t unstoppable. A well-prepared group can defeat her.”
“Is that what happened yesterday? When Yumeko didn’t catch Mima?”
“Yeah. From what I understand, the intruder, her magic, and all those spirits she unleashed weren’t enough to stop our Yumeko.”
I made the next leap of logic, no matter how worrying it might be. “So demons stopped her?”
Sara knew where I was going with my questions, just as well as I did. “That’s right,” she admitted.
“Not the ones living in our city?”
“Nope.” That was why Sara was certain there would be a fight. Why Shinki and Yumeko’s plan consisted of bringing a veritable army to the other side of Makai. Demons from the metropolis…
“They were just possessed, right? Or compelled to? Or-”
“I don’t know, Sis. It’s possible. Mother and Yumeko are…asking them, at the moment.” Once they’ve finished, we’ll find out. Then we move out.”
“I know this is strange for you Sis, but it’ll be over soon. We can go back to training and having fun in a few days. For now, we need to finish up with this last minute practice, okay?”
I nodded and flew back, letting Sara round up the other gatekeepers to continue their practice.
[ ] Spoke with… -[ ] Mai -[ ] Yuki -[ ] <Someone> --[ ] About their plans --[ ] About their feelings --[ ] About <something> [ ] Stayed in the goddess’ realm -[ ] But first created a golem to accompany Marisa -[ ] And warned <someone> about Marisa [ ] Headed towards outer Makai -[ ] With Sara and the others -[ ] To search for Erk -[ ] And watched over Marisa [ ] <Write-in>
Same stuff. This is convincing/prep/free time. I imagine that next update there will be some decision making to be had (if you don’t in this one).
I continued on with my flight. Speaking with my family left me feeling empty. Of course, I didn’t want any of my family to be hurt. At the same time, I could barely imagine most of them fighting and killing. I wanted to go with them and be together, but doubted how much help I could possibly offer. Staying home and welcoming everybody back with a smile sounded wonderful, but the thought of not using my abilities bothered me.
My mind was a mess. I still needed to hear more opinions, some that would hopefully settle the debate in my head. Decision made, I began to look out for Mai.
An objective opinion formed from well thought out points and facts would be best. The icy witch was one of the calmest people I knew, well-rounded and knowledgeable about everything. She taught seemingly every subject and could find all sorts of applications for her magic. She seemed like someone who could help me.
However, I couldn’t find her in the city. While there were a few magicians still enchanting arms and armor, Mai was not amongst them. Continuing my search, I coasted towards the edge of the city and zeroed in on Mai’s home.
When I landed at the small home in the hills, I found the door closed but a window open. Creeping up to the wall, I could hear voice shouting. My creations plastered up against the wall next to me, crouched underneath the opened window.
“You don’t want to fight, right? So stay here! Let me handle this!” Yuki’s loud voice was instantly recognizable.
Likewise, there was no mistaking Mai’s calm and cool rebuttable. “Don’t be foolish, Yuki. You do not want to go any more than me.”
“Stop with this nonsense. You are not obligated to fight in my place.”
I slowly rose up and peeked over the sill of the window. Mai and Yuki were standing in the kitchen, facing each other and parallel to the window. They didn’t notice me with their peripheral vision.
“You are acting silly,” Mai cut off her friend. “Do you think I fought because I wanted to make you feel guilty?”
“No.” I ducked when Yuki turned. When I peeked over the sill again, the blonde witch was sitting in a chair facing away from the window. “You fought because you had to, because if you didn’t, someone would’ve gotten us.”
“In part, but if that were my only concern I could have remained unaffiliated. Why do you think I worked for Yumeko?”
“You’re smart and knew the goddess would side with her?”
Mai chuckled and placed a hand on Yuki’s head. “You give me too much credit. Yumeko agreed to cast her protection over you if I joined her. Sariel’s lackeys wanted you to fight. The choice was simple.”
“See?” Yuki shouted, rising to her feet and clutching Mai’s hand. “You protected me, so I need-”
“Wrong. My choice was to respect your choice.”
“Wanting the best for me, huh?”
“Whatever the goddess may say, I still believe in choice. We have always respected each other’s’ choices, have we not?”
“That’s right.” The pair stared at each other in silence, smiling all the while. Then Yuki let go of Mai’s hand and laughed. “But, that isn’t why you’re fighting now, right?”
“Correct. The fact of the matter is, Yumeko is out magicked. She and our family are in danger without my support.”
“I guess you count for at least twenty of those dumb little cowards that scampered off with Sariel.”
“Should you be criticizing them in such a manner? They were your friends, your peers.”
“Of course I should. I was just like them after all, a scared little witch that was all set to ignore our ominous goddess’ invitation to her spooky castle. I’m glad you came and got me, you know? Besides, those idiots always stole my ideas without coming up with something on their own! No imagination!”
“That’s right. You have always been our most talented witch.”
“Don’t be like that, Mai. We’ve got better researchers; I’m too distractible. And we’ve got better practical casters like you, too.
“Better is subjective. Given time, you always outclass me. Sometimes, you just need the right nudge in direction.”
Yuki laughed again, her mood completely back to normal. “Heh. So, is this another nudge?”
“Do you think it is?”
“I think I need to grow up even more. I don’t want to fight alone with my guilt as motivation. I want to fight together with you, to keep you safe.” Yuki stepped forward and drew Mai into a hug. “You okay with that?”
“I’d be glad to have your support.”
They held the embrace a second before Yuki backed off, her face puffed up in annoyance. “Come on Mai, you should smile more! After my big declaration to protect you? And the fact that I came over to your house? Appreciate me!”
The target of Yuki’s ire ignored her and took a sip from a cup. “I’ll appreciate when you stop taking my food.”
“Haha, don’t be like that, you leave it out on the table for me!”
“So you do not take something tastier.”
“Eh? You holding back on me Mai?”
I spun on my toes and floated off, careful to avoid passing in front of the window. Makai’s dynamic duo would have been more than glad to speak with me, but I didn’t want to interrupt their time together. If they were both going with Yumeko and Shinki, then this would be their last peaceful moment for a time.
Besides, eavesdropping on their argument gave me what I needed.
Everybody had a reason for acting the way they did. Mima did. Marisa did. Yumeko did. Shinki did. Everybody in between did. Taking the risk of a fight was worth it if they believed so.
I could squirm and flop back and forth as much as I wanted, but everybody else would continue to do what they thought best. If I didn’t make a decision, one would be made for me, just like for any child. I didn’t want that.
My family was, by far, most important to me. I didn’t want to lose anybody ever again. That was all I needed to know to make a decision.
Momma and daddy fought to protect me. Yuki and Mai and Yumeko and everybody else would fight to protect me. The least I could do was be willing to fight to protect them.
Of course, I doubted I could actually fight to protect them. Even after a year of training, I knew I would still not be able to keep up with the demons. However, I didn’t have to be on the frontlines of whatever operation Yumeko planned. There was bound to be something I could do.
Perhaps I could find Erk. If he left before Ko’s party ended, he probably wouldn’t know about what happened. He would be stomping around outer Makai’s metropolis without any idea of what was coming. While my magic teacher could most assuredly take care of himself, letting him wander around blind was terrible.
I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but with the future in mind I decided to fly back to Pandemonium. If everybody else was preparing for the trip then I could too.
When I reached the crystal castle, all was quiet. There were still a few demons marching through the halls but the vast majority was resting. When I peeked in on the numerous dining halls, I found groups upon groups of demons partaking in their last meal at home for a time. Their subdued conversation resembled that of their city dwelling peers.
But, there was a difference. While the demons I saw in the city were picking up weapons and armor and preparing them, the demons in Pandemonium were already outfitted. Much like the gatekeepers that were drilling with Sara, the demons in Pandemonium were the militant ones, with armaments that I assumed they personally owned. Axes larger than them, bracelets brimming with magic, sword with multiple blades attached and more were at the ready.
It was the difference between a militia and professional soldiers, in a way.
If I were heading to outer Makai, I couldn’t be lax. The situation would already be tense enough assuming it didn’t explode. A couple of dolls and Metabble might be enough to dissuade wild animals or a few berserk demons but it would be silly to expect a complete defense from them alone.
Back in my room, I wasn’t sure what I could prepare in such a short time. I walked past the bed and into my workshop, stopping at the ends of the assembly tables were I stored all my works in progress. They were mostly golems of a larger variety; chimeras, spiders, and other faux-magical beasts. If I worked quickly, I could probably finish up a few. Those golems weren’t much different from what I had already worked on.
Likewise, I had larger dolls in the works, too. They were essentially the same as the golems, but more diverse in what they could achieve. A bit weaker in construction, but a variety of weapons or tools would make up for it. A fair-haired doll, an animated armor, and what amounted to a giant metal hand were also projects I had been whittling away at. They were at much earlier stages, but if I rushed I could get one working. I already had dozens of different weapons, shields, and magical tools from when I had been trying my hand at enchantments, I just needed something that could carry and use them.
I sat down to think about it and idly worked on my dolls. Replenishing their numbers after the fight would help as well.
“Oh?” Ko danced into my vision, her devilish smirk mocking me. “Is little Alice going to be a delinquent?”
My little blonde-haired doll tapped Ko on the forehead for me. It came out more as a slap. “They never said I can’t go,” I replied, not removing my attention from the arm I was shaping.
My redheaded friend pushed aside the offending doll. The rest of the swarm I had left to protect Ko came to their peer’s defense, setting off a miniature war between demon and doll.
Eventually Ko won, my dolls hanging about dejectedly while she sat down next to me. “Sheesh,” she complained. “Anyway, you mean you aren’t going to cry ‘But it’s dangerous!’ and try to stay here?”
“Aren’t you?” I retorted. One of us could always rely on the other to call out our stupid decisions.
“I should. But I was poking around your room and you have some pretty neat things!” Ko suddenly got up and ran back over to my bed, throwing something over her shoulders and returning to the work area where I was sitting.
It was a bandolier of swords, the kinds I made for my dolls. Ko withdrew a pair of them and flipped them between her fingers expertly. I supposed I modeled the weapons off of Ko’s knife more closely than I realized. Slipping the weapons back into their sheathes, Ko continued, “Sure, the unknown is pretty dangerous, but between all this I think a bit of light exploration is safe enough.”
“Momma said curiosity killed the cat.” I repeated the adage without thought.
“So are you going to go or not?” Ko demanded
“Well…” I was beginning to second-guess myself with all of Ko’s badgering.
“Sheesh Alice, you’re still undecided?”
“No, I’m not. But you’re making me worry!” I put aside my newest doll who flew off on her own. “Besides, weren’t you going to rest here?”
“I said I was going to keep you company. IF you want to run off to where the action is, well, I’m prepared.” Ko grinned and grabbed one of the shields I had lying around. The front erupted into flames when she set her hands on it, drawing an exclamation of delight. “You better hurry up if you are planning on going,” she warned me. “I was listening to a few people talking, and it sounds like our super maid is going to have everybody march off in an hour or so.”
So little time, I thought. Still, it was enough time to get to work if I started immediately.
[X] A roughly scorpion-shaped golem with heavy tracks and two strong arms. Weaponized tail optional. Tracks should be easier to keep working than legs are, and are better at traversing some types of rough terrain.
[X] Followed the others at a distance This looks like a safer option than going completely alone, if we can get our companions to keep quiet.
I walked over to the large suit of armor I had been piecing together and figured out where I could take it in an hour. The idea when I first started it was that I could enchant each piece of armor separately, in a modular way. That way I could switch out parts or have the armor break apart without worry.
I was most of the way there. All of the required spells and enchantments were already engraved onto different parts of the suit. I just needed to extend the spells to the rest of the armor. The time flew by as I concentrated on my work, my dolls capable of keeping Ko from distracting me.
Ko circled my creation, thoroughly unimpressed. “You made yourself a suit of armor?”
“Yes! Well, no, but yes.”
“What do you-” The redhead poked the armor in its gauntlet, causing my creation to reach out and grab her wrist. “Whoa! It moves!”
“And it fights!” I added. “Pick this up, please,” I told it, handing off a spear two times its size. The animated armor took the weapon in hand and twirled it over its helmet before storing the weapon with a hook on its back. “Great!”
I continued to go through my weapon stash, choosing the best of what I had created to hand to the armor. It loaded itself down with as many weapons as possible, strapping them to its chest and hooking them to its belt. When it looked like there was nowhere else to store things, I simply manipulated the plates to create extra hooks and locks.
“I guess this is a step up from your little dolls,” Ko commented. She earned herself a whack from two of the offended. “Ow! Stop it! That wasn’t an insult you little freaks! Ow!”
We were interrupted by the thumping of feet meeting crystal. When we looked outside, we managed to catch sight of a group of demons running down the hall towards an exit.
“Is it time to go?” I asked.
“Maybe? Let’s go see.”
My dolls quickly flitted around the room, grabbing everything I thought I would need. Other than a change of clothes, the only other belonging I stuck into my bag was metal ingots. Likewise, my dolls loaded up, grabbing their weapons and extra metal for me to use. After quickly transferring a few spirits from their containers into my freshly made dolls, I was as ready as I thought I would be. “Do you have everything you need, Ko?”
“Yeah. I went home for a bit to wish my parents luck and to pick up all the basics. Between this,” she said while patting her messenger bag, “and all these neat toys I grabbed in your room here, I think I’m set.”
Most of what she grabbed from my room was copious amounts of knives, but I didn’t comment.
We took off down the hall, but stopped when we reached the open-air landing. Outside, it seemed like every single demon that lived in the city was floating above the crystal lake. They were arrayed in groups in a loos sphere around a pair of bright red figures. Yumeko and the goddess were easily visible, especially when Shinki had those six large purple wings attached to her back.
The goddess was speaking, her voice clearly audible to all. “The one who caused us such confusion and damage has fled to her allies. This evil spirit has friends amongst the demons of the metropolis. Her demonic peers were the ones that so selfishly impeded Yumeko’s pursuit at the border by ambushing her with exorbitant amounts of firepower.
“My children have realized the error in their actions after speaking with us, but it saddens me to hear that they have been manipulated by their peers into thinking that this intruder is a just person to protect. Despite our now distant relations, I had hoped the others would prioritize their familial bonds.
“With this in mind, we are moving ahead with the plans Yumeko has already distributed to you all. Please, maintain your formation and stick with your groups as we fly. Remember to remain cautious while we fly towards the divide, especially once we breach. Let us go.”
At her soft command, the mass of demons in the air turned and began their flight. A few of the ones closest to the earth drifted down, having opted to stay in the city.
“So how are we playing this, Alice?” Ko asked while the rest flew off.
“We should follow them,” I decided, “but not too closely.”
“Probably a smart idea,” Ko agreed. “Far enough away they can’t keep us on a leash but close enough we can cry for help.”
“I’m not going to cry.”
“Never said you would,” my friend replied with a smiled.
Ko tracked the host of demons with a pair of binoculars and, once they were sufficiently far away, we began to fly after them.
I had only managed to get back up to twenty dolls, not including Luminita. However, we still had a sizeable cloud form around us when my newly animated armor broke apart, each piece flying independently, some with weapons attached. It could reform itself in a second if needed, but flying in pieces maintained its flexibility of response. It gave us a loose shell of protection that would slow any attack we didn’t immediately notice.
As we passed over the city, Ko asked me, “Did you hear that?”
If she was referring to some sort of screaming, I thought I did. “I think so.”
The source of the shouts quickly drew closer. “…aaaaait for meeeeeee!”
“Look out!” Ko shouted. My cloud of creations split apart to avoid the oncoming object, not needing to intercept the purple blur that passed by us. “Watch it!”
Coming to a halt in the air above us, the broom-mounted witch flew back down to speak with us.
“Marisa, what are you doing?” I asked her.
The witch was sprawled across her instrument of flight. “Y-You…huff…t-told me to…huff…come find you.”
Ko looked at me as if I was insane for having some crazy blonde come bother us.
I hadn’t been expecting Marisa to follow my orders, but it was good fortune that she did. “Well, are you still planning on going after Mima?” I asked.
The question pepped Marisa right up. “Of course I am!”
I stared Marisa in the eyes, trying to gauge her feelings on the matter. She stared back resolutely, determined to help what she saw as her family.
I sighed. “Then you can come with us for a bit.”
“I can what?”
“She’s coming with us?”
The two of them asked me at the same time. “I’d like her to,” I told Ko. “She can’t really protect herself.”
Once she drew Ko’s gaze, Marisa’s confidence faltered. “I can…I can sort of…”
“So she’s a human, then? Didn’t think I recognized her.” My closest friend took one last look at Marisa before shrugging. “Whatever. Your call, Alice. I hope she isn’t dead weight.”
Sudden hope sprung into Marisa’s voice. “You’ll help me find Lady Mima?”
Her assumption made me feel sick, considering my family was on their way to…negotiate, with Marisa’s mentor, in the most hopeful case. “Maybe not that far, but we’ll travel with you at least.”
“O-Okay, that’s good!”
The three of us, plus all my creations, flew on at an easy pace. Since we already knew where the others were heading, it wasn’t urgent that we stick as close as possible without being seen. We could afford to move slowly and far out of sight of the other demons.
However, it wasn’t as if we were far enough away to ignore the bright flashes and sounds of magic. Lightning arced through the sky. Massively oversized energy shots exploded in like fireworks.
When we reached where the commotion occurred, we found the bodies. The few large wyverns, the dragon-like creatures that only had two legs, who roamed Makai’s airspace were dead. Aside from the magic damage there were swords, arrows, and other projectiles embedded in their corpses. The large beasts stood no chance against their creator and her family.
I thought it was kind of sad that the wild beasts were being killed for doing what they were created to, but there was nothing I could do for them.
While we flew, I was absorbed in tinkering with the spells on my animated armor. To my side, Ko seemed to have taken it upon herself to whip Marisa into shape. “Bursts, kid, bursts. Don’t just shoot all over the place.”
“But that’s not as powerful as-”
“You don’t need power. Hitting them once will slow them down so you can hit them again. The point is to survive!”
“I’ll t-try it.”
“No, no, no, not like that! Far too many gaps. You have to string your cluster of shots together so there’s no escape.”
“Then why can’t I just shoot them all at once then?”
“It’s about control! If you stick to bursts, you can stop or redirect yourself when the situation changes! You have to be focused around you just as much as in front!”
During our travel, I noticed something strange; a prickly, creepy feeling that caused some of my creations to draw their weapons in preparation. “Hey, do you two feel like we’re being watched?”
Ko barely gave me any of her attention, so focused was she on correcting Marisa’s tendencies. “I’ve had that feeling for a while, Alice.”
“Y-You have?” A mixture of embarrassment and annoyance invaded my voice. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because whoever it is, I’m sure Yumeko and the rest have noticed them. If they aren’t worrying, we don’t need to either.”
“I didn’t notice anything…” Marisa commented, before being dragged back into impromptu practice.
Our flight continued like that until we reached the ‘edge’ of Makai.
The three of us hunkered down in the second crystal forest, the one that overlooked the dip down to the fire wall which marked the division between the two sections of Makai.
“Wow! That’s huge!” Marisa shouted, earning a shushing from Ko.
“It isn’t that-” I stopped myself. While I hadn’t been overly impressed by the barrier of fire when I first saw it, I had been dealing with greater magic on a near daily basis.
There was no need to crush Marisa’s enthusiasm. I wouldn’t be helping her that way.
The rest of our family was lined up in front of the wall in neat ranks. Clearly heavily armored demons stood closest while the lesser armored, more magically inclined demons took the rear. I noticed a few demons much further back than the others – medical demons and a few guards, I guessed.
The goddess stood closest to the wall, with Yumeko and some of the gatekeepers immediately behind her.
“Look, the goddess is going to open it,” I told the other two. It was obvious considering the way the energy wafted from Shinki to the ground and ceiling where the fiery enchantment took root.
The sections of the wall of fire where my family stood went down all at once.
Then the demons, the greyish, misshapen things, jumped towards us from the other side. The creatures had weapons drawn and were screaming murderous intent.
“W-What just happened?” Marisa asked, not two minutes later.
“I’d say some pretty unlucky idiots got wiped,” Ko commented.
It wasn’t a contest. The demons that had been waiting on the other side of the wall were annihilated. Before they had taken five steps, a wash of magic and other projectiles tore them to shreds. Any survivors of the initial barrage were cut down personally by my advancing family.
It was a cold slaughter. Whoever attacked the goddess had no future.
Once a short time had passed, we slid down the hill and crossed the bloody, corpse-filled field.
Marisa tried to keep her attention fixed ahead, but once she looked down she began to shake. “T-This is…”
“Not surprising,” I sighed. I didn’t know what they were expecting to accomplish with such a small force. When Shinki had commented that somebody stopped Yumeko, I knew it couldn’t have been at all similar to the measly group that had been waiting. I thought that the maid could have cut down all of the grey demons on her own.
I tried to feel some sort of empathy for them, but I couldn’t. As far as the denizens of Makai went, the poor ‘low class’ demons were the least related to me. I felt more kinship with the wild beasts the goddess had directly created than them.
They were pitiable. Formed from subpar methods into the least desirable shapes, only to be used and abused by those stronger than them, I thought a quick death handed out by my family was positive in some ways.
What bothered me, as we passed over the corpses, were the souls. I could feel those slaughtered demons still in their bodies, waiting. I thought the goddess might take them with her but instead they sat. I wondered if Shinki would come back later to help them.
Marisa was obviously bothered by the violence, but her nervous fear slowly dissipated once we left the corpses behind, especially once the metropolis came into view. Her response to seeing the ridiculous urban jungle was predictable.
Shinki, Yumeko and the others were floating on the edge of the metropolis. I wasn’t sure why they had stopped, but with the aid of Ko’s binoculars we could see the various residents of the metropolis quickly scurrying around at the edge of the city. Some were fleeing deeper into the metropolis, while others were taking positions on rooftops and at windows.
[ ] Continued observing the goddess’ host… -[ ] From a distance -[ ] While drawing closer [ ] Tried to find Mima by… -[ ] Following Marisa’s intuition -[ ] Predicting where the witch might hide [ ] Looked for Erk by searching the metropolis… -[ ] High -[ ] Low -[ ] Outside [ ] Went to go talk with… -[ ] Sariel -[ ] Elis -[ ] YuugenMagan [ ] <Write-in>
>>11752 Irregular voters are second-class citizens! You don’t count! Just kidding I love you
We continued observing the goddess’ host. Striking off into the metropolis was a silly move, especially when the situation was so obviously volatile.
Ko and I came to a silent agreement, the two of us slowly drawing closer to the mass of demons. Marisa looked between us before obediently following along. We wanted to avoid anybody’s notice for as long as possible.
After the brief delay at the edge of the metropolis, Yumeko and Shinki began to move forward again, the rest of the city demons maintaining their formation as they followed.
“Do you know what that was about, Alice?” Ko asked, simple vision not giving enough clues as to what had happened.
“Maybe Shinki was trying to find her children?” It was only an educated guess, but it was logical for the goddess to try and sense the souls that were kidnapped to try and find Mima. “Do you feel anything like that Ko?”
“Something prodding your soul, maybe?”
“Oh yeah, totally. There was a fluffy bear trying to give it a nice squeeze. How am I supposed to know what that’s like?” I frowned at Ko’s snippy response, but didn’t push the issue. Given the human-like nature of Makai’s demons, Ko’s awareness of her soul wasn’t surpising. She couldn’t notice anything less than a possession attempt.
“I guess it doesn’t matter. Let’s keep going.”
We increased our pace, unable to afford keeping the same distance from the others as we had when crossing Makai. Given the nature of the metropolis, we would quickly lose sight of the group unless we were right under them. Straight line distances were constantly obscured by some sort of construction, whether they were run-down stone works or high-class, enclosed steel bridges.
Moving faster and closer to keep track of the others created a new problem. “Hold on, Alice,” Ko said while stretching out an arm to stop us.
We weren’t the only ones watching the goddess and her children. Every demon living in the metropolis seemed to be out and about, watching the incident unfold.
Some were watching through windows or from where they stood on streets, curious demons that had been going about their normal day. Once the goddess’ demons moved out of sight, so too did those residents move on with their days.
A majority of the on-lookers were actively following the goddess’ host, like us. Some appeared to be slightly more curious ‘regular’ demons, dressed in casual clothes with only a dagger at their side. They clambered along, travelling alone or in pairs and gossiping all the way.
The problem stemmed from the armed demons that followed. Some appeared no more than street thugs, similar to the demons who had accosted us when we first visited the metropolis. The misshapen, low class demons outfitted in motley armor quickly scaled sides of buildings, driven on by more normal-looking demons, task masters or leaders.
In other cases, the goddess’ host was followed by soldier-like demons. Groups of five and ten ‘high class’ demons that appeared no different from their city counterparts carefully floated through the city. Mostly humanoid in appearance, those demons were outfitted in steel armor and had obvious magical enchantments on their persons. They moved with cautious discipline, like packs of wolves stalking their prey.
With all those demons following the goddess, we were forced to follow alongside them. We tried to maintain our distance, but there simply wasn’t enough room on the streets to avoid bumping shoulders.
A pair of three young females, accompanied by a cloud of dolls and armor fragments, did not draw as much attention as I thought it would. To those around us, we were simply another faceless group. While slightly uncomfortable, being stuck in the crowd let us learn the mood of the metropolis.
“When do you think that bitch is going to start attacking?”
“She wouldn’t dare while the goddess is around to hold her leash.”
“Like that stopped her from killing us all the last time?”
“I’m more afraid of the goddess losing it again.”
“Pfh, at least that’d be quick and painless. Try having a sword spear you in the stomach.”
Demons all around us chattered and gossiped, some more informed than others as to what was occurring. Much of the talk was nonsense to me. I didn’t know the residents of the metropolis or how they operated, leaving me to take guesses as to what the conversations meant.
“She also said she’d leave us alone here. If she broke her word once, what’s to stop her from doing it again?”
“If the goddess wants to harvest us all up, it’s not like we can stop her.”
“What the hell have those Reckoning researchers been doing all this time, then?”
“I hear they can’t figure out a suitable mass defense without an artifact like the goddess’ book.”
“They’ve had a hundred years!”
“And the Ninth’s backing, but they still haven’t found the power they need.”
“Damn. I can’t believe it.”
“You should. The goddess has already scooped up all the powerful artifacts. It’s a miracle we’ve found anything.”
Of course, while quiet speculation and subdued outrage were the norm, not all following the goddess’ host were content to talk peacefully with those they were forced to walk next to.
“The Ninth Condemned will send them on their way and we can go back to our lives.”
“Fuck Sariel and her bootlickers.”
“Those bootlickers stopped the dog from controlling the goddess. You should be grateful.”
“You’re one of the fucking Ninth, aren’t you? Pieces of shit, you’ve already poached half of my crew, I ought to-Hurghk.”
“Never likes you much anyway Jezca, you little rat. See you again never.”
I pulled Marisa close to me when the ashen, red-veined demon brought his clawed hand down, crushing the skull of the demon he had been talking with. Metabble flicked up to catch the blood while my other creations shifted to more defensive positions.
Marisa squeaked at my sudden manhandling and stared with wide eyes at the murdered man. It didn’t even cross my mind to try and cover her eyes, to hide the violence from her. My full attention was on the potential threat.
Others in the crowd skirted the violence, leaving a small clearing where the body was. The murderer glanced our way, his stare meeting Marisa’s. “You got a problem, girl?”
I felt Marisa freeze in my arms, the childish witch fearful of the casual threat of violence the clawed demon exuded. He seemed to take offense to Marisa’s demeanor and took a step closer, only to stop when Ko intercepted him.
“Hey buddy, seems like you’ve got a terrible nail problem. Want me to cut it down for you?” The redhead drew one of her knives and twirled it, grinning at the murderous demon.
His red eyes glowered at us a second longer before he turned away, his interest gone.
I kept Marisa snugly at my side. The blonde witch didn’t mind at all. She wrapped her arms around my waist, more than happy to take comfort in the protection I could offer.
“Thanks,” I told Ko.
The redhead shrugged and sheathed her knife. “These guys have quite a temper, eh?”
None of the other followers were violent enough to commit petty murder, but the mood amongst the crowd was not pleasant. Agitation, fear, anger, and every other unsettled emotion mixed together creating a dangerous cocktail in the crowds.
It felt like it was coming to a head when the goddess’ host stopped for a second time. Above us, the white tower of the metropolis could be seen. While the different blocky structures shooting off it obscured the tower’s form, there was no doubt that Shinki had stopped outside Sariel’s home.
Ko and I began to maneuver to try and get a better view from the ground when I heard Marisa begin to mutter. The blonde was cupping her hands in front of her, a ball of magic forming from her quiet spell.
Inside the glowing ball of magic, I caught a glimpse of green. It lasted for less than second, before an image of a red eye filled the sphere.
Marisa squeaked and shook her hands to dissipate her spell.
“What was that?” I asked her.
“It was Lady Mima!” Marisa shouted with excitement.
Ko shushed Marisa, not wanting to attract undue attention, but it was too late. Marisa’s loud outburst caused everybody nearby to look over. While most of the demons lost interest, an armored group of demons kept an eye on us as they talked amongst themselves.
I drew my creations around to form a more solid barrier while speaking with Marisa. “Do you know where she is?”
“I think she’s in there.” Marisa pointed to the white tower. “I could barely reach Lady Mima before someone shut out my spell.”
Even if she didn’t say it, I could see Marisa’s eagerness to reunite with her ghostly mentor. While the mass of demons in all directions around us intimidated the witch, she might be emboldened enough by her mentor’s closeness that she would strike out on her own.
I shook my head and thought. I could vaguely remember the way Elis into the white tower that Elis had showed us. From where we stood on the ground, at least, there were no obvious entrances. Any such doors would be found inside the other buildings connected to the tower, and it wasn’t obvious how to enter those complexes either. If something happened while we searched for a way in, we might get caught in an unknown position.
On the other hand, standing around amongst the crowd of on-looking demons did not seem to be the brightest idea either. I doubted we would be attacked in any fashion as long as we kept to ourselves, but being at ground zero of a potential conflict was just as dangerous as wandering. If Shinki and Yumeko knew Mima was inside the tower, who knew what would happen? Someone was bound to come out, or some group would doubtless try to go in.
“Alice…” Marisa whispered.
I ignored the stupid annoying childish little witch that didn’t belong in Makai. “What do you think, Ko?”
My friend didn’t look at me as she answered, all of her attention kept on observing the demons around us. “Whatever you want, Alice. But, I think we might be biting off more than we can chew by sticking around.” Ko’s doubts about remaining in the area were sensible. It might have seemed hypocritical compared to our decision from earlier, but we hadn’t experienced the hostile atmosphere back then. It didn’t occur to us that the jungle-like nature of the metropolis would require us to be so close to the action.
“But…” Marisa started. She seemed to think better of her words and kept quiet, her desires left unspoken but not unknown.
[ ] Tried to infiltrate the tower… -[ ] While letting Marisa lead -[ ] Using my own sense of direction -[ ] And relied on Ko’s memory [ ] Continued watching the goddess’ host and… -[ ] Tried to keep Marisa with us -[ ] Let Marisa do as she pleased [ ] Flew up to the city demons and… -[ ] Tried to keep Marisa with us -[ ] Let Marisa do as she pleased [ ] Turned around to leave the metropolis and… -[ ] Tried to keep Marisa with us -[ ] Let Marisa do as she pleased [ ] <Write-in>
We tried to infiltrate the tower using my own sense of direction. Between my memory and the layout of the metropolis, I thought I could get us into the white tower.
While the metropolis was an urban jungle with little basic planning, the area around the tower was perhaps the most sensible. Large elevated plazas could be seen above us. The enclosed structures were linked together in a way that they formed overhangs and, in some areas, ceilings depending on how crowded the construction was. Despite the disorganization, there was a pattern to the sprawl.
After quickly glancing around, I tugged on Ko’s sleeve and Marisa’s arm to get their attention. Then I started to make my way through the crowd, my creations managing to form a path through the demons for us. We annoyed more than our fair share of people, but none of them went beyond angry shouts.
I led us to a staircase which spiraled up into an overpass. It too was filled with demons gazing out of the windows, requiring us to push past them into clearer areas.
“Where are we going?” Marisa asked.
“Into the tower,” I answered as I led us up and up.
“Do you even know how to get in?” Ko sounded unconvinced.
“Not necessarily,” I admitted, “but I don’t like staying down in that crowd.”
“Because being up here in this crowd is loads better, right?”
Despite Ko’s criticisms, the number of demons in the pathways above ground level was not high. They crowded at the tops of open-air structures and around windows in order to see what was happening, but otherwise left the walkways clear. Most everybody was fixated on the events outside. They wouldn’t be relocating until something exciting occurred.
That did not mean everybody was still, though. Groups of gruff and serious demons ran down some of the elevated walkways. They darted in and out of buildings, yelling out orders and information as they passed by each other. The ones in the walkways were more active than the ones on the streets, but I was sure they all had a role to play.
An unintended role they played was to help me navigate. As we approached closer to the tower, we came across more of the soldier-like demons. They soon became the norm, silent watchers observing through windows and loud runners coordinating the response to the goddess’ appearance.
They took no notice of us or didn’t care about us. It didn’t matter to me either way. As long as they did not stop us, I had no problem ignoring them.
What I couldn’t ignore was the sudden shaking of the floor. Metabble kept me from falling over and I, in turn, kept Marisa on her feet.
Ko fell on her butt, though. “Ow! What’s going on?” she complained.
We rushed over to an open window, but we couldn’t see the goddess’ host. What I could feel was the rush of magic. Magically brighter than the goddess’ wings, the entire white tower lit up in a shell of spells. The new source of magical energy stood out like a lighthouse on a moonless night.
“W-What’s that?” Marisa asked.
“What’s what?” Unlike me and Marisa, Ko couldn’t sense the magic in the air. Without a visual cue, she was lost.
There were a myriad of spells that activated on the tower. Some were easily identifiable shields, magical defenses and physical defenses, along with anti-scrying and reconstructive spells. Other spells felt like offensive ones, energy charging to unleash hellfire and ice storms into the air.
Once more, I didn’t particularly care. While the spike in energy was worrisome, and my own curiosity to examine the tower piqued, it was all secondary to the task at hand.
“Come on, this way!” It was nice of them to light the tower up. It gave me an easy waypoint to navigate around, regardless of where we were.
Compared to trying to follow the movements of the demons, following the source of the magic was much easier for me.
In no time at all, I navigated towards an entrance to the white tower. It was in a warehouse-like attachment, the large room around the entrance devoid of any real furnishings. It also happened to house around one hundred demons armed to the teeth kneeling on the floor in groups.
Those demons all turned to stare at the three diminutive figures that appeared in the entranceway to the entrance.
“Well, this is great,” Ko commented.
“What do you lot think you’re doing here?” A scary woman barked and marched towards us. Her metal armor, except for the added blades on every surface, reminded me of a cockroach.
Before Ko or I could answer, Marisa leapt forward. “We’re here to see Lady Mima!”
Marisa’s proclamation was met with silence. Ko and I glanced at each other, unsure of what would happen but prepared to escape at a moment’s notice.
I weaved a silent spell around my ears to enhance my hearing. The muttered comments of the waiting demons revealed themselves to me.
“Who are they? Do you recognize them?”
“Three little girls? I don’t remember any of us in those forms.”
“Look at them. High class newborns?”
Confusion was rampant amongst them. Even the cockroach-like demon, having sounded so sure of herself, was at a lost. “I see…” She turned around, marched back towards the white tower, and rapped her knuckles against the structure.
When she did so, a figure materialized in the air above us. I remembered the blonde, pony-tailed woman in traditional robes from my last visit. The white tower’s gatekeeper was as serious looking as last time.
Her eyes swept over us once before she nodded and disappeared.
“You’re in,” the cockroach armored demon told us. Much to Marisa’s glee, we were marched through the gathering of demons and ushered into the tower.
After taking one step through the entrance, I could feel a familiar tingly sensation wrap around my body. I couldn’t analyze the spell in the second I had. The instantaneous transportation once again took me off guard.
Ko fell to her knees but didn’t puke. It was improvement.
We had been taken to a cozy room within the tower. It was a crowded, one-room study. The walls had floor to ceiling wooden bookcases and were expectedly full. A fireplace was unlit on one side, in place completely for the atmosphere it provided given the structure of the tower. It was a lowlight room, so closely simulating a quiet moment before bed such that I almost missed the woman in midnight robes sitting at the lone desk.
“Lady Mima!” Marisa shouted, tossing her broom to the side as she rushed over to her ghostly mentor.
The green-haired ghost turned enough to scoop Marisa up into a large hug. From where I stood, I could see the smiles on both of their faces.
Yet further back, floating above the desk, were panes of magic. Windows to the outside in practice, they were technically impressive scrying spells that could relate sight, sound, and smell to those nearby.
I knew they could transmit smell because the odor of smoke wafted through the magic spell.
In those windows, I could see the entirety of the goddess’ host. They had their weapons drawn and magic at the ready. Fire was prominent, from burning blades to burning hands, the element of choice for a number of demons. The magical panes did not show what the front row was staring at, who Yumeko and Shinki were speaking with, but I could see the crowds behind them.
The crowds of demons we had recently been moving through also had their weapons drawn. The militarized demons from both the city and the metropolis were staying each other down.
[ ] Watched from the wings [ ] Went to explore the tower [ ] Turned to return to the goddess [ ] Approached the witches and… -[ ] Said nothing -[ ] Asked Mima… --[ ] To return the kidnapped souls --[ ] What was happening outside? --[ ] What did she think she was doing? [ ] <Write-in>
I had to talk with Mima. Resolving the situation was a task far greater than one person, but with the instigator of it all right in front of me, there was an opportunity to help everybody I couldn’t ignore.
I waited a minute to let Marisa have her moment with Mima. Despite my previous misgivings, the pair looked genuinely happy. Marisa had managed to crawl into Mima’s lap where she began to chatter away. The ghost smiled at her young pupil, the picture of a parent listening to their child ramble about their day.
Steeling myself, I took a step forward and coughed lightly. “Excuse me.”
When Mima’s gaze turned on me I felt a chill. I watched as her warm smile flattened out into an unreadable mask. The witch carefully set her apprentice on the floor before rising to face me.
Marisa’s exuberance was undeterred. “Do you remember her, Lady Mima? She’s really nice and really really good at magic! She can fight so much better than me and-”
“Yes Marisa, I remember her.” When Mima spoke, Marisa didn’t. Even the little witch could feel the change in mood.
“I feel the need to thank you, Alice, for escorting Marisa here. I know as well as you that for her to travel alone to this place is hazardous.” Mima patted Marisa’s hatless head before continuing, “While the situation outside is less than ideal, YuugenMagan can return you at once.”
I shook my head.
“Is there some other business you have? Wouldn’t you rather leave?”
I shook my head again, despite the sudden urge to do just that. Why did I hesitate? Was I afraid of her? Afraid of the look in her eyes? Hesitant of what might happen? Uncomfortable because I was in an unfamiliar place?
Ko placed her hand against my back in a show of support. I was glad to see my friend was plagued by the possibility of vomiting from teleportation sickness.
“What are you doing?” I asked as politely as I could muster.
“Observing the events outside,” Mima replied.
“But,” I paused trying to think of better phrasing, “why are you watching from here?”
“Why would I not? It is my room, after all.”
I doubted I would get any real answers out of her unless I asked tougher questions. Yet, I was reluctant to escalate. “Will you please return my family’s souls?” I asked.
“What souls are you speaking of?” Mima kept playing dumb.
She knew full well what I meant.
“The ones you took from my family when you killed them!” I clapped my hands over my mouth, silently berating myself for such an outburst. “I mean, after you…visited Pandemonium and flew away, you took some of my family with you.”
Mima laughed in an empty sort of way. A meaningless laugh, the kind people have after someone tells an unfunny joke. “How polite. Tell me, child, do you even know if I did what you claim?”
I had felt it.
Even if Yumeko and Shinki had been lying through their teeth, I trusted my memory. I had been working with spirits, with souls, for a long while.
More than that, I knew the sound of someone’s soul being torn from their body.
I didn’t know who she took while fleeing. But I knew the sound of it. Even if I didn’t want to think about it, the memory of momma’s scream-
“I know you did. But I don’t understand why. Please, mother just wants our family to be happy. Can’t you return them?”
Mima didn’t answer me. The ghost witch floated closer to me. My body shivered in response. My creations closed rank around me immediately, responding to my emotions.
Then the witch passed me by, to the far side of the study. There she raised a palm to the wall, causing it to swing open. Mima stopped to look directly at me for a second before floating through.
After another glance with Ko, the two of us followed Mima. Behind us, I could hear Marisa slowly trailing along.
The door led to a stairwell. It was tight and spiraling both upwards and downwards, the gap between each metal step empty. The walls around us were dull grey concrete. I couldn’t imagine a need for the stairs when YuugenMagan could seemingly teleport others without effort, but there they were.
Mima was already far above us, her ghostly form capable of rising straight through the center support.
Our own flight wasn’t much more difficult, although I felt the dizziness creeping up on me after a few levels.
“Where are we going? Why don’t we teleport? Why won’t you return my family?” I yelled my questions up at Mima.
“I am loath to draw unnecessary power from the tower at the moment.” Although she couldn’t see me, I scowled at the witch and her selective answer.
The tower shook violently, ominously punctuating Mima’s reply. I thought I felt the familiar whirling of energy from massed spell casting, but it was tough to recognize from inside. Anything outside of the tower felt dull, dampened. The shielding in the tower’s walls were difficult for my senses to traverse.
Mima eventually turned off from the stairwell and floated through a door after having risen however high we went.
The three of us crowded around the door before I grabbed the handle and opened it.
As soon as I opened the door, magical energy washed over us.
It was wonderful. My body had grown accustomed to the elevated levels of energy in Makai. The vault under Pandemonium, filled with powerful magical items that radiated energy, was a pleasant but manageable experience. Entering that room in the white tower was a massive rush, the concentration of energy great enough that a normal human probably would have collapsed nearly instantly.
It was thick in the air. It felt as if you would breathe more magic than oxygen. It filled the lungs with a heavy, fluid like sensation. The magic clung to the skin like a sauna, the air muggier than the most humid of days. The energy caused the skin to tingle, the eyes to water, the head to spin, the joints to stiffen, the ears to ring, the heart to beat faster and faster.
I felt like I was in heaven. Colors were everywhere, in beautiful cascading droplets and elegant ribbons of smoke. I could see it, smell it, taste it, hear it, feel it, truly feel it. A pleasure for every single sense.
Behind us, the door swung closed. Our bodies had stepped into the room without thought.
Behind me, I heard Marisa hiccupping. To my side, Ko was clutching her head, the lack of fine magical sense doubtless making the experience vastly more unpleasant for her. The physical sensations were certainly oppressive, but the magical sensations were all the more intense.
I tried to stop, to use my eyes to see what the room was like. It was large and hollow, a giant sphere of a room. A metal and concrete walkway ringed the edge, which was where we stood. The railing was the only barrier that would stop someone from falling several stories to the bottom of the room.
The center of the room held another sphere, a giant glass bubble that was suspended in the center of the room. A second walkway ringed that container, with a single narrow bridge connecting the two.
I floated towards the center, towards that container. I drifted towards the source of the magical energy like a moth to the flame.
That was when I noticed the artifacts. Small pedestals were constructed around the circular walkway in the center of the room. On each pedestal waited a magical item. The energy those items put out was miniscule compared to the amount already in the air, but the flavor of the energy drew me in. The color of the magical energy was…right. Compatible.
I wanted it. I had to have it. To my mind it felt like it would fit, it would be right, it was perfect, it was exactly what I needed, exactly what I wanted, everything I could ever hope and dream for waiting for me to scoop it up and- “Alice.”
A pair of arms wrapped around my shoulders. Ko, with a grimace on her face, did her best to attract my attention. My dolls were pulling at her hair, at her clothes, trying to dislodge her and her grip.
That’s…not right. I shook my head furiously, trying to think clearly. With force of will, I stopped my creations from harassing Ko and brought them to me. Just like in the vault, they were acting crazy. They drifted towards the magical items if they weren’t harassing Ko. Of all my creations it was Metabble and my newly animated armor that stuck close, true to their instructions; them and Luminita, the goddess’ gift of a doll.
“Ko, how long have I…have they been doing this?”
The redhead chuckles and straightened her clothes and hair. “A minute or so. I would have cut these girls to pieces if I didn’t think they’d draw their swords on me.”
I glared at my creations, at the strands of red hair in some of their hands. “I’m so sorry! I never meant to-”
“It’s okay, I get it. Is your head back together?”
“I t-think so.” It was tough to keep my wits in that room, but I tried for Ko’s sake. Letting my base desires rule would lead to disaster.
I gave the room a more thorough analysis. It was a heavily warded room, specifically meant to contain the magical energy. When you looked, it was easy to notice how the energy circulated. Spawned from the spherical container in the center, the energy drifted until it was pulled out from the floor and the ceiling. It felt as though the energy, when needed, could be routed directly through the tower’s structure. It made sense, then, that the white tower could put off a greater magical signature than the goddess.
The items ringing the container were hooked to it. They had a purpose in regulating the container, in helping to generate magical energy.
No, it was more than that. The artifacts were all strong, but were also of the same nature. I could feel them resonating within me, appealing to me. When used separately, they had varying purposes. Linked as they were they formed a larger system through their single commonality.
And they most certainly weren’t metal-manipulating artifacts.
I cautiously reached out with my senses to try and see what was inside the glass sphere, but it was the most heavily warded part of the room. I couldn’t confirm any of my fears. What was stored inside was hidden from me.
Quickly looking around, I found Marisa standing on the bridge between the two walkways. She was standing in a daze, with Mima at her back. The ghost witch seemed to be taking care of her pupil, preventing her from falling while in an energy-induced stupor.
That was the only positive thing going for her at that moment.
“Mima,” I shouted and flew closer to the pair, Ko and my creations at my side, “what is this?”
The green-haired witch didn’t look at me while she answered. “This is the source of our power, the main result of our efforts for over a century. We had been contemplating how to raise our own abilities for the longest of times. After that terrible squabble between Sariel and Yumeko, it only became more apparent that we needed enough power to match the goddess.”
She sounded nostalgic when she spoke. “How long have you lived here?”
“A long while. After my death, after drifting as a mindless evil spirit, I wandered into Makai. The demons became something like a new family for me, away from the machinations of disgusting humans. Imagine, an environment where killing another could be laughed off. It was perfect, exactly what I needed to stabilize and maintain the form you see now.” Then her nostalgia ended. Taking her mind from the past, she refocused on the present and stared me down. “That peace had to end, of course. The idea that the goddess could up and kill all her ‘children’ with the flip of a page terrified us. We needed a way to combat her power if she ever reneged on her promise to leave us be, like she has today.”
“She hasn’t!” The goddess and Yumeko were in the right! It was Mima who attacked us first. “We just want our family to be back together.”
Mima smiled at me; a pitying smile. “You are a good girl, Alice. I have no doubt that is all you want. However, I would not be surprised if the others wished nothing more than to clean us from this existence for good.”
She was being stupid. Adults were always stupid. Why couldn’t they see it was easier to get along? “Why? Why do you need to protect yourself from the goddess? Why can’t you return our family? Why can’t you be our family?”
“That thought is too simplistic. The fact of the matter is, we wish to live our lives as we see fit, the freedom to act as we please. We do not wish the goddess to breathe down our necks and force us to act in a way counter to our existences. Because we cannot act as she wishes, we will not risk our lives based on the goddess’ whims.”
“She would.” Mima cut me off with such ferocity that I was stunned silent. There was pure hatred in her voice. “What a goddess! You should have seen her during our little civil war. She was content to sit idly be, reviving demon and after demon, hoping everybody would reconcile. She ignored the problem, ignored her supposed family, until she grew tired of it! Losing Yumeko was the last straw. Without her favorite pet to talk to, she finally returned to her true nature. She killed all her children, tore all of their souls from their bodies, just so there would be peace. Then she restored them and gave us a choice, the choice which led to us living here; the dangerous, subversive elements, the normal residents of this realm, that couldn’t be trusted to follow the goddess’ every whim and command.
“Do you know how the goddess’ power is derived Alice? It isn’t just from her hoard of magical artifacts scavenged from across the world. It comes from belief. Like any religious figure, she draws upon the belief of the thousands of demons and other creatures she created to give her greater power. Even the demons living here, having gone a hundred years without seeing her, still believe her to be a goddess. Do you know why?
“It’s fear. Fear of the danger she represents. While those few in your city might somehow imagine her as a kind and benevolent god, they fear her power. They fear the woman that believes herself an infallible goddess, mother, and creator. They fear the woman who would force her spawn to act completely against their nature.
“But not me. She is no mother of mine. I hate the goddess as she is, and the dog that stubbornly reinforces her false face. That, ultimately, is what this chamber here represents. It is hatred, overwhelming hatred, which can counter the fear. It is the efforts of a few that can match the beliefs of everyone and defeat the goddess.”
The vehemence rooted us in place. Ko’s hand was clutching mine, but whether she was comforting me or I her was unclear. What could I say? What could Ko say? It didn’t feel like Mima was lying. She honestly believed in what she ranted.
Slowly, the ghost calmed down. Once she managed to return to her unamused expression, she sighed. “I grow tired of this. It has proven less amusing than I first thought. Tell me, Alice, what forces has Yumeko brought against us?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Describe them to the best of your abilities.”
“Almost every demon in the city. They’re armed with whatever they already had along with freshly enchanted weapons.”
“What artifacts has the goddess brought with her?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have they told you anything of their plans?”
“Tsk. I see. I suppose you don’t have any useful information for us. Then, when YuugenMagan deposits you outside the tower, you should fly over to Yumeko and hand this item to her.”
“Wait, Alice, what are you-”
“You, be quiet.”
I glared at Mima for talking to Ko like that. Who did she think she was?
Then I looked down at my hand, where my fingers were beginning to curl around a small rectangular box.
This is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. I didn’t want to I didn’t want to I didn’t want to!
I slapped away the strange device after shaking off Mima’s influence, the magical compulsions suddenly as obvious as sunlight. Whatever magic Mima had thrown into her voice crumbled away.
The subtle, mind-altering magic was something I hadn’t even noticed before it took control.
The witch raised an eyebrow at my reaction. “Free, are you? I suppose it was inevitable, given such blatant usage of my power.”
I backed away from Mima, from that pitying smile, as fast as I could. My creations grabbed Ko along the way, slapping her until she was back to her senses.
“Alice…” I didn’t know Ko to warn me about the situation. We both knew the danger we had stupidly walked into.
[ ] Pressed for more answers -[ ] <What questions?> [ ] Demanded the return of my family’s souls [ ] Apologized for any insinuations [ ] Moved to reclaim the goddess’ artifacts [ ] Tried to shatter the spherical container [ ] Asked if Marisa was okay [ ] Tried to leave by… -[ ] Descending the stairs -[ ] Attempting a teleportation spell -[ ] Breaking through the wall [ ] <Write-in>
She's drawn the line already. Asking questions.. making demands.. apologizing, the time for talking seems to be over. Reclaiming the artifacts just doesn't seem plausible to me, being almost entranced by one and having to deal with a hostile Mima at the same time. Asking if Marisa is okay? I think its too late now. She's devoted many times over to Mima, and she's in her grasp. At least Mima doesn't seem to want to harm her.
All the ways of leaving seem like they'd be rather unsuccessful. Going down the stairs looks like it'd take too much time, teleportation seems bad because it took what, 10 demons to teleport 3 people into the tower in the first place and she has never used one before, and blasting through the wall seems unlikely seeing as how the tower itself is fortified against magic, though admittedly maybe not from the inside.
I'll have to throw my vote down for this. [X] Tried to shatter the spherical container
I was fed up with it all. I tried to be polite while talking, arguing, negotiating, asking, and trying to do everything I could for my family, but it was difficult. Impossibly difficult. It felt like nothing I said would sway Mima.
The ghostly woman was terrible. She killed without mercy, not just my family by hers as well. I hadn’t forgotten the low class demons Marisa had been hunting in the forest on the surface. She would murder and steal however she pleased. Commanding others to kill their friends, blasting demons with powerful magic, and even stealing their souls! There was no way I could keep talking with her, especially when she tried to make me do things.
I quickly glanced around the chamber, wondering what I could do.
The solution was simple. Mima had already professed to me how she planned to fight the goddess. Putting a stop to her plan in order to help my family seemed like the best option.
I gauged the glass-like container in the center of the room as best I could without drawing suspicion. It was a perfect sphere, at least four times as tall as I was. It was supported in the center of the room by a rather thin pillar connected to the floor far below, along with however much weight the walkway ringing it could hold.
Ignoring the magical leylines connecting the surrounding artifacts to the container, the entire structure was reinforced as much as, if not more than, the surrounding walls. It was some of the finest static shielding I had examined.
It wouldn’t be a problem. The room was clogged with magical energy. In no time at all, I was confident in my ability to whip up a storm of epic proportions.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, stretching out my magical senses as far as I could without giving hint to what I planned. I threaded my own magical energy through the air, preparing to sweep up all the ambient energy I could for one quick strike.
My skin tingled.
I expelled energy from my body and formed it into a protective shell, temporarily giving up my attack on the container. My creations moved with my thoughts, scattering and shoving Ko away.
The reflex saved my life and hers as the air around me erupted into flames. The searing hot magic would have melted my flesh if not for my barrier. As it was, the heat was sweltering, unbearable for any significant amount of time.
I swiped my hands and pushed away the concentrations of energy the spells were burning from, scattering the fires elsewhere into the room.
“I can’t let you do that, little girl.” Mima was still floating on the bridge with Marisa between the two circular walkways. The ghost had a crescent staff in her hand, the weapon pointed directly at me.
It was foolish to think I could secretly prepare something. Mima, already a powerful witch herself, was also a ghost. Her form relied upon magic to exist. If she didn’t notice my spell preparations, she was a complete failure.
I growled at the woman and clapped my hands.
Pulses of energy rolled off me, in time with my heartbeat. The power shot outwards in waves, causing the energy in the air to ripple and move. I was an earthquake in the sea of energy, launching tidal waves at the ghost. It was an attack meant to constantly buffet Mima and distract her.
She was forced across the bridge to the outer walkway with Marisa cradles in one arm. The ghost set her apprentice down and covered her with a bubble shield.
The retreat gave me the precious time I needed to coordinate. My dolls gathered around me and my animated armor put itself together. I took a lance from it and began quick and dirty enchanting, enlarging the weapon to the size of a ram and throwing every powerful spell I could into the head.
I handed the weapon back and sent my creations off. The armor and dolls rushed towards the large container, leaving me alone with Metabble and Luminita. The silver-haired engineering doll floated into my arms, ready to help control my spell casting.
“Look out, Alice!” I curled a barrier around me, deflecting the soccer-ball sized rocks launched in my direction.
I responded with a hail of metal shrapnel before silently chastising myself. As natural as it was to call upon my affinity, it would do little to stop a ghost.
Sure enough, I watched the relatively magic-less projectiles pass harmlessly through Mima. Then, the ghost disappeared.
No, that was wrong. Her physical form dissolved, but the concentration of energy where her soul resided was still clear to me.
Clear until it disappeared in an explosion of magic.
Teleportation? Where did she go?
I whirled in place, managing to reacquire Mima’s signature just as her physical form coalesced.
I watched as she pushed an adult-sized star at my animated armor, the projectile blazing outwards as quickly as Marisa could fly. It slammed into the animated armor, more than strong enough to crush my metal construct in a head-on collision.
The armor performed perfectly to its function, breaking apart as the projectile hit it. The pieces of armor were launched throughout the room, barely scorched by the star’s passing.
The loss was the former-lance turned battering ram, which quickly fell without the armor to hold it. I directed my dolls to it, their combined efforts able to keep the weapon afloat.
Then I whipped my magic at Mima. Curved lashes of my magic sailed through the air, picking up ambient energy along the way to strike faster and harder to assail Mima from multiple directions.
The witch shrugged off the attack with three layers of purple shielding. Her counterattack came to me immediately, the air around me once more exploding into flames.
There was no respite after I knocked the flames away. I had to throw up more barriers to protect myself from a shower of finger-sized stars that came screaming through the air.
The attack ended with a flash of light. Then another, and another.
I turned to look at Ko. The redhead juggled several grenades in hand and was lobbing them over to where Mima was. All the while, my friend was rushing back over to me.
I used the lull provided by Ko’s weaponry to mix in my own spreads of energy bullets to keep Mima pinned down. It didn’t last long as Mima started another teleport.
“I have to admit it Alice, I’m not in for a big spell slinging spirit fight.” My friend motioned to the last four grenades she had in hand. “I’m pretty much running dry.”
“You should leave, Ko.” I tracked Mima, throwing up barriers and out attacks as she blinked from place to place.
“I’m not leaving you here, Alice. We better- Whoa!” My friend suddenly hiked her legs up, a crescent moon projectile spinning through where her ankles had been.
I rolled in front of her and threw up a large shield, enough to cover us from the swarm of crescents slicing through the air. “Ko, I can’t-”
“Watch yourself Alice!” The confident redhead darted out from behind me, zipping her way between the flying projectiles as she flew towards Mima.
I did my best to cover her, but I had to worry about myself more. Letting any of Mima’s spells lands was sure to be a painful and potentially lethal experience. I doubted I could shrug off the cuts crisscrossing Ko’s body.
Ko ducked under a laser and suddenly shot into the air, diving back down on Mima’s form with her knife outstretched. It passed cleanly through Mima, shearing her body in half but doing nothing to harm the ghost.
“No!” I shouted when a pulse of energy slammed into Ko’s back as she passed by the ghost. I saw the back of her dress vaporize, leaving a bloody circular burn on her skin. Nonetheless, Ko spun around midair and blew a kiss to Mima.
The grenade she had tossed mid-pass exploded just as it fell past Mima’s location.
A scream echoed from the witch. They grenades might not harm a spirit, but they could certainly inconvenience them. The bright light and magical reaction of the grenade flared against the evil spirit, working exactly as intended.
“Ah damn, that hurts. Can we go now, Alice?” Ko shouted while drawing closer.
“You heard her! Whatever is in there is generating all this magic to power the tower. I have to break it!”
The thumping of my creation slamming its weapon into the spherical container was a sweet beat to my ears, but it was soon interrupted. The grenade and my follow-up barrage had stalled Mima, but not enough for my creations to achieve anything before she teleported over and blasted them.
“No you don’t, Alice! You have to keep yourself safe! That’s what the goddess would want.”
“I have to, I have to!” More than that, the container bothered me. I couldn’t sense a thing that was inside, but it made my entire body shiver thinking about what might be inside. There were only so many things that could be used to generate the needed energy.
Ko grunted in frustration and lobbed the last of her grenades at Mima, the flashes forcing the evil spirit back for another few seconds.
That’s what I thought, but Mima had adjusted to Ko’s weapons of choice. A tight coil of blue energy sprung forward at me. I deflected it with a barrier, only for Ko to scream an instant later.
“Ko!” I cried out. However terrible it was, I didn’t have time to fill guilty for the ricochet. I had to focus my energies to protect myself.
“I know!” The redhead shouted, throwing her arms behind her as she dived again. “I know I’m in the way! But damn it I do not want to leave you!”
I couldn’t go. Despite the hectic fight, I was exhilarated. With the abundance of energy in the air, I felt confident in my ability to keep pace with Mima. I was committed to the fight and didn’t want to go while I could still help the others.
That was why my friend screamed in rage and frustration. Ko darted back up to me for a final word. “You get out of here Alice, you hear me?”
I nodded and felt her go. She was effectively worthless. For all her demonic capability, being magic-less made her a quick-moving target and nothing more. Even if I gave her a weapon suitable to striking a spirit, getting close to Mima again would end more poorly than her first attempt.
It must have been a horrible realization for her, that living me alone might be the best way to help.
Ko rocketed towards the door, ignored by Mima. Other than the stray projectiles zipping around the room, my friend made it out unmolested.
For the next few minutes, Mima and I settled into a routine. We would exchange attacks and attempt to draw our opponent’s attention. Eventually, Mima would teleport in a burst of magic, reappearing somewhere near my creations to disrupt their attempts to break the container. My dolls suffered under her attacks the most, destroyed by wide rays of magic before I could sufficiently bombard Mima and force her to deal with me.
However, I quickly grew proficient in tracking the ghost. Her teleportation spell was not the seamless spell the tower guardian seemed to apply. Mima’s spell required a large amount of energy to activate and gave away too much. Ignoring the activation burst, I could notice the streams of magic that foretold Mima’s new location half a second in advance.
Once I learned that, I gained time to channel my attacks. When Mima reappeared again, I nailed her with my own laser of energy. Dirty and basic, I simple funneled energy from around me and fired it through my arms and Luminita.
I heard Mima scream. I poured more of myself into the attack while watching my animate armor begin its duty. It slammed the ram into the container, a dull thud resonating in the room. I hoped it would break after another few slams, but I was growing doubtful. It had already managed a few rams, but the container looked undamaged.
Then I started screaming when a beam raked across my stomach. The tear in my clothes was a travesty, but the burn was not. It stung horribly but was more of a flesh wound than anything.
My laser petered out without my concentration to fuel it, leaving Mima completely unhindered to launch a dozen more beams from her fingertips.
I squeaked and dived down, Metabble soaking in a few of the heated beams from behind. When I twirled back to face Mima, small energy tornadoes spun with me, enough to rip apart a ghost if they connected.
“Enough of this, I am needed elsewhere!” Mima shouted and disappeared from sight. I followed her magical signature, which streamed towards a place an arm’s reach away. My magic raced with little direction, lancing towards where the ghost would doubtlessly appear.
My attack froze in the air. The words of power stalled me. She could cast mid-teleport?
I threw off the magical compulsion quickly, but my advantage was lost. The ghost’s physical manifestation was fully formed by the time I was free.
I tried to back away to gain room to cast but I wasn’t nimble enough. Mima was on me in an instant, hand reaching out to clamp down on my wrist
Metabble sprung up between us, the liquid metal capable of breaking and severing any human hand that would try to touch me.
Unfortunate then, that Mima’s ghost form was a mere formality. I screamed as I felt my wrist break, human bone failing to a burst of magic. Any of my counter spells died half-formed in thought, the pain enough to cause my concentration to slip. The instinctual discharges of magic I used to retaliate were nowhere near strong enough to repel the ghost.
“Goodbye Alice.” I could barely hear her whisper over the throbbing of my own heart. It beat in my chest louder and louder, Mima’s incorporeal arm reaching through my chest hardly noticeable.
Her magic punctured my body, and in that moment I felt her. I felt the soul that was Mima as we mixed and mingled. I tried to rip her to shreds, into itty bitty morsel-sized soul bits, like a cat clawing at whoever grabbed it.
I couldn’t do it.
The control my body gained from the curse placed on my soul wasn’t enough. My level of soul manipulation was amateur-tier compared to the creator of that very curse.
Then she pulled. Then I screamed.
I screamed and screamed and screamed.
I screamed until my body stopped responding.
Then I screamed until my mind collapsed from the shock.
My soul, freed from its fleshy cage, did not scream.
--- The girl stared at the boiled remains of her brother and smirked. He was an annoying twat, fully deserving of the punishment meted out.
Her mother was not so amused. The white-haired woman, hand still red hot with magic, looked down at the body before her. The moment of unbridled annoyance passed and with it, horror moved in.
The woman fell to her knees and scrabbled at her pockets. Eventually she managed to fumble out her shining gem, a flood of magic rushing down to the body.
The formerly dead man sat up and cracked his neck. “Sorry about that, Mother.”
“No, no, no, not at all,” the woman muttered, “it is my fault.”
“How is it your fault, Mother?” The man knew he was the one pestering their goddess after she already denied his request. He should not have riled up their creator.
“No, no,” the woman said. “I am…above this. I should be.”
“Why?” The girl couldn’t understand what bothered her mother.
“How am I to provide a proper example when I act thusly?”
“You’re a demon, Mother.” Their goddess was, without a doubt, a true demon. The girl thought it was amazing she didn’t act worse. The white-haired woman was living proof of her ideal, of the sheer power that could be wielded.
“That does not matter!” The woman rose and shouted, the ground underneath the pair cracking. The girl jumped, self-preservation instincts causing her to take flight and back away.
The white-haired woman caught herself and brought a hand up to clutch her chest. “I…I need to go, Dear.” She turned tail and fled, up and away from the center of her urban home.
The girl thought little of it. She thought her mother was overreacting. It was not as if any of her children would fault her for accidentally killing one of them. It was a simple fix for an admittedly irregular and never before seen occurrence. Any death their goddess handed out had been for a reason, a lesson or punishment.
The girl shrugged off the accidental death and continued on with her day, directing her peers as they tried to slay the goddess’ newest monstrosity in order to further their skills.
The irregular occurrence was unique. It never happened again.
The next day when the girl came across her mother, she was surprised to find a new sister. The blonde haired woman quietly followed after her mother, hands held relaxed in front of her. She seemed demure, shy and quiet.
She was anything but.
“Meet your new sister. Say hello, Yumeko!” The white-haired woman shoved the blonde forward to the girl.
The blonde curtsied to the girl. “Greetings. I hope we may live in peace.”
“Yeah, sure,” the girl replied. A bit of strange one, but most of the newborns were awkward after their creation. The girl sidestepped her new sister and addressed the white-haired woman. “Mother, half of our group was wiped yesterday. We came up with a new plan, but need several bandoliers of explosives.”
“Why would you need such a thing?”
“We plan on feeding a few of us to the molbol to explode it from the inside.”
“A slant idea, but not unworkable. I am surprised you found volunteers.”
“We didn’t. I was going to say they were protective charms and see who would take them.”
“I see, that is a fair-”
“Mother,” the blonde woman spoke up, “you cannot allow such a reckless action. Not only is it wasteful, she plans on deceiving and sacrificing her family for little reason when she is magically capable to resolve the issue.”
The white-haired woman lowered her hand, listening intently to the blonde before nodding.
The girl glared at the presumptuous blonde but said nothing. She could be lenient of a newborn’s awkwardness for only so long. “Mother, we’ll be heading out in twenty minutes, so if-”
“I’m sorry,” the white-haired woman said. “Yumeko is correct. I cannot condone such a plan.”
The girl stared in shock, before her scowl returned in full force. “How do you expect us to fight that tentacle monstrosity, then?”
“Consider the matter further, dear. I’m sure you can overcome that challenge.”
The girl stared at the white-haired woman and her blonde sister before screaming in frustration. The girl stomped off, furious that her mother had suddenly changed opinion.
She went ahead with her original plan, but laced her family’s skin with explosive enchantments instead of a physical substitute. It worked, the monster died, and the girl still felt anger. She was confident in her magic usage, but needed the practice in making a convincing argument.
The family’s newest sibling proved to be the most frustrating of all. She did not end her meddling in the potentially dangerous hunts. She stopped fights when they occurred in the streets. She killed the tortured animals that danced to the delight of others. She stalked the night and crippled those who planned creative thefts, break-ins, or assassinations.
The girl had half a mind to discipline their newest sibling, but quickly discovered how terrible of an idea it was.
The large berserker of a man, with a mane of hair reminiscent of a lion, was a beast of a fighter. His hulking form could pummel any of his siblings into the dust, yet he still moved as fast as the speediest of imps. Fed up with their newest siblings peculiarities, he had thought to smash a lesson into her face.
After the blonde woman had driven a dozen swords into his limbs and lopped off his legs below the knees, she broke up the crowd of people that had gathered to watch the expected fight. Ever the embodiment of self-control, the blonde then carried the man off to the goddess for healing, but not before delivering her lecture in acceptable behavior.
The girl’s prudish and deranged sister could not, of course, be everywhere at once. Their family’s life did not change because of the single woman patrolling the streets and enforcing a new code of conduct. Those with dealings adverse to the blonde could simply avoid her.
What changed family dynamics was her influence. Confronted with the blonde, some of the girl’s family adopted their newest sibling’s habits. When mother created new family members, the blonde and those like her were the first to greet the newborns, indoctrinating them with their poisoned values.
The girl would have let them be, in most cases. How they chose to act was their business. If they crossed the girl, she would set them alight and move on. Yet to the girl’s horror, their goddess took the blonde as a near absolute advisor.
Her mother changed. Gone was the strong woman who could lead their family, could encourage and discipline in the same stroke. The girl saw her role model crumple before her very eyes. Downtrodden and lifeless, the white-haired woman did not act as she should to those that were clearly her inferior. She spoke softly, begged, and slinked away when rebuffed. She did not crush the insolence that her children displayed as she should have. She cajoled and wished, chastising her children for their immortal actions.
When her words went ignored, the damn blonde and her ilk were there.
The girl couldn’t stand it. She couldn’t live in the same space where more and more of her family became meek and docile.
She left and wandered on a daily, weekly basis. She roamed empty tunnels, natural land formations as opposed to their goddess’ expansive creation. She walked amongst the trees and flew in the air before returning to skulk in the caverns closer to her place of birth.
It was there, in those never-ending warrens, the girl found another.
Spirits were part and parcel of living in her home. The dead and bodiless naturally drifted downward to their home, attracted to the emotions that festered there. Luckily, despite the blonde woman’s growing influence, the flow of spirits did not stop.
When the girl met the spirit, she was greeted with a curse. The girl laughed it off, the wards in her clothes protecting her from such malicious effects. She soon stopped laughing when a section of the tunnel fell on her head.
The girl spat on the ground and leveled her staff at the spirit, ready to send it to the void. A blast of pure magic brought the spirit’s form to the ground, trapped in place.
As the girl stepped up to where the spirit fell, she was surprised to find the faint outline of a body she hadn’t seen against the darkness. It was a rarity. The girl had run across few spirits strong enough to cast magic, let alone old enough to have the semblance of a body.
The girl lowered her staff. She could eliminate the spirit, but where would that leave her? The better idea was to nurture it and see what could be learned. If the spirit proved useless, despite its apparent age and power, she could always eliminate it easily enough.
It was a long and boring process, but no more than her daily life. The girl sat in the tunnel, feeding magic to the spirit while keeping it contained.
What had become of her life? Why was she distracting herself with meaningless dalliances? Would she stay in a self-imposed exile from her home forever? She hated the very thought. The girl clenched her fist as she thought about her family. If that damned Yumeko could affect such a change, the girl thought, why couldn’t she?
That would take time, but the one thing she and her family had in spades was time. If she could spend a month empowering a spirit or a year wandering tunnels, she could easily begin to build her strength.
She was free to do as she wished. What she wished was for her mother, her real goddess, to return. She resolved herself. Nothing would stand in her way.
This can’t be real.
…Where am I?
This isn’t what I wanted.
Scum of the earth! Anger I’ll destroy him! So this is it? Distress M-M-M-MONSTER! Resentment Is that…? This can’t be the end! Displeasure No no no no no no! Fury P-Pl-Please, don’t! Please, don’t leave. Cowardice He’ll pay, I swear it!
…What happened? Indignation It hurts. It hurts! That damned thief! Murderer! You murderer! Outrage If I had just another second! It is… Vindictive Retribution Hurtspainhurtspainhurts! Stop the pain the pain the pain! He hated me he hated me! This can’t be it! Horror No way, no fucking way! Die die die diediedie! Dismay I’ll kill that bastard! Can’t be happeningcan’tbehappening! Terror Don’t worry…He’s dead he’s dead hes’dead! Dread So, this is what it’s like?Piece of shit! Panic Why why why? I’m sorry. I’m so, so, sorry. Malevolence It’s all over?
…Am I dead? Spite
What a deplorable life. Disappear disappear disappear! Guilt
Didn’t even go out with a bang. Goodbye.
Vengeance It’ll be okay… No way! This can’t be it!
I don’t want to die here!
I can’t be- I didn’t do-
Is this the end?
…T-This i-isn’t me. T-They a-aren’t me at all! All these p-people aren’t me!
[ ] Flowed [ ] Struggled
Apologies for the lateness. Formatting is a bitch.
>>11852 Oh, don't take me wrong, I can relate with her tragic past. But that is just an excuse for her current behaviour-not a justification. Not all people with a shitty childhood end up being mass-murderers. I understand where she's coming from, but I still hate her. Considering she's the antagonist, I think that's a job well done in the author's part.
…dead. Impossible! Impossible! Souls lost Ahahahahaha! Calm… Kill!Destroy! Ashes to ashes! Souls taken Damn you!Dust to dust! …No. Never-ending emotion No escape! …No no no! I’ll end you! I m-miss you! If I ever see her again! No future I won’t make it! Die!It’s okay… I hate him I hate him!Oh. Trapped No! No!Kill! I’ll kill him! Ensnared …You all aren’t me! I want to go home! Let go of me you cretin!…Not! Me!
Caged Why? Anybody but me!Hate hate hate! They won’t be you… Aaaaaaaah! Confined Imprisoned No! I won’t let you! …Get out!Get me out of here! Restrained …Get out of my head! Madhouse, it’s crazy- …Get away from my thoughts! Murder! Bloody ahahaha! I deserved this. All-consuming tide Goodbye. You won’t be lost… All-encompassing host Separate minds Cut and cut and cut and- I refuse to accept this! …Stop it!Help me, please. Again! Do it again! …Stop! Stop! Stop!I can’t do it.
It’s the end! Same emotions Everybody is dead! I won’t let that… I’ll never see her again!I will end him! Lost minds No purpose Never forget me!…No! Not me! You all can’t be me!
Please!…You all can’t have me! One more chance, just one more! I screwed up. Weak souls I see…
Unprepared minds Never again! Never! …Me, me them themthemthem- I swear I’ll kill him! …It’s me or them! Non-magical Damn you- This is it. She’ll avenge me. I know- You’re fine, aren’t you… This can’t be happening! Non-willful He’ll be on his legs begging when- I haven’t done anything! …I won’t die here! No chance If I ever see her again I’ll- …I won’t stop here! Burn! Burn in hell you mo- Consume …I won’t stop! Absorb Devour I’ll-She can’t- I never imagined...Who would- Ahaha- Dominate Monsters like- …Me or them me or them me or them! Tear …I won’t sto-I wan- Die di-You-I wish- Destroy You’ve grown so strong… Disperse They- Nev- We- Power …Huh?It- Growing I-Far stronger than me…
…What was that? Gaining I’m proud…
…Wait. Strength of will He would be, too…
…No! Magical strength You aren’t running anymore…
Nothing else I need to do…
…Please, I- Overpowering character What little I have left is yours…
The container-shattering silver spike pushed further on its own, the spell sparking as it ground into the firm white of the tower.
Where is she? Where is that witch?
I could hardly think of anything else. The green-haired ghost that had ruined everything preoccupied all of my thoughts.
My eye-less gaze swept the room, taking in the rainbow of colors and disregarding them. I filtered out the noise, the distractions, and homed in on the streaks of midnight that floated in the air.
I didn’t think further.
Red and blue and silver and green and orange and purple and everything else barreled towards the blotch of midnight, shaking the room with the intensity of their travel. They exploded in a cloud of multi-colored energy, obscuring the sight of most.
I saw the film of midnight that saved her and reacted, launching pinpoint jets of energy that could shatter the protective magic as surely as the former spirit container.
My bodiless form could feel the vibrations in the air and could understand the screams of surprise and pain of the ghostly witch.
My attack was relentless. I basked in the colors of the room and used them, whipping the spherical cavern into a maelstrom of magic. I didn’t think about control, about how to efficiently use my magic to harness the room’s energy. I didn’t need to. I felt the colors and pulled on them.
I spared a few thoughts for what Mima saw. The witch doubtlessly saw me. She looked up to the shattered container and saw me dispersed around it. She saw the remaining dozens of the thousands of evil spirits flying free, circling the room looking for escape before being shredded by uncontrolled magic.
She saw every millimeter of the air explode in bursts of energy, beating against her own hastily drawn shields.
“YuugenMagan!” the cry sounded. It was a plea for assistance from the off-guard witch.
I didn’t take heed of the slight shift in colors until I felt the pain. The feeling shot through me like lightning jumping within the clouds.
Yellow oozed out of the sheer white walls and the ceiling. Eyes of pure yellow and red appeared along the edges of the room, peering down at the situation. Whips of yellow lashed at me, forcing me to twirl rainbow shields around.
It hurt. The yellow splattered against my whirlwind defense and eked by, the slightest touch disintegrating my insubstantial form. It destroyed what was me worse than anything I had felt before. Melting in an inferno could not compare.
I reacted and plummeted downwards, towards a familiar silver splotch left unattended on the floor of the room, at the base of the supporting pillar for the ruined prison.
The colors dulled and then brightened again once I adjusted. Forcing all of me into such a tiny container was claustrophobic and more than uncomfortable. It felt like every joint and seam was set to burst, the doll never meant to contain such power. Yet it was worth it. The protection of a body, however inanimate, nullified the soul-flaying flicks of yellow.
It gave me time, however few seconds it would take for my opponents to adjust and reorient themselves.
Free in the air, I had felt stronger than I ever had before. In the rush of my escape I felt invincible; the sudden kaleidoscope of colors emboldened me as I took the offensive.
In the slightly obscuring body, my mind centered itself. Logically, I knew, I was no goddess. My power was limited, stronger than before but not by enough. I could match Mima on my own and trump her with the extra energy in the room, but that was it. If others joined the fray, such as however much attention the tower guardian gave me, I would not last.
The colors were already flowing out of the room to be used elsewhere and were not being replaced. My sole advantage was being drained away for spells not my own. I needed to tip the scales. Adding to myself or removing from my foes, I needed to change the situation.
I had to act.
I chose to…
[ ] Claim the goddess’ artifacts [ ] Crush the witch [ ] Wreck the tower [ ] <Write-in>
Now that I’ve thought about it, mobile users and people with low resolution probably have a shit time reading this (more so than everybody else, at least.) Oh well.
>>11852 Nah, backstory’s purpose is to be kept a big secret and then disregarded after the character dies. At least, that’s what role-playing games have taught me.
I didn’t think about the justice of taking back mother’s items or the possibility of them being lost forever. I gave no thought to others or how the artifacts might be useful in helping my family.
In my temporary doll-body, I rushed towards the artifacts because I needed the power.
If I had a heart, it would have been pounding. The colors around me were already readjusting themselves for my new body, my foes preparing to ruin to me.
I needed more power to survive.
I swung my diminutive arms, mimicking my former life. Magic sluggishly moved to my command, flooding outwards to deflect the oozing yellow and midnight blasts aimed at me.
Some of the magic made it through, but the yellow didn’t burn through my body. I, myself, was perfectly fine for the moment.
Yet my casting was too slow. Several of the star-like manifestations glanced off of my form.
It felt heavy. Moving my doll body was difficult. Working magic through it was harder. My abilities were stymied by the body. Compared to when I was freely mixing with the energy in the air, casting spells from the doll was like throwing darts underwater. It was worse than when I had my own flesh and blood. It offered my enlarged soul more protection, but it was ultimately a restraint on my magnified ability.
I needed more.
Anything I could get my hands on to even the odds.
The first artifact I reached was a scepter with a real skull for the head. My doll hands took the scepter off its pedestal and swung it. I severed the connection between scepter and tower mid-movement, allowing a stream of sickly purple to spew from the skull’s eyes. The scepter wailed and screamed while it was active.
The purple stream was blocked by midnight and starry barriers.
An interesting item, but it wasn’t strong enough to turn the tide on its own.
I levitated the scepter behind me and plucked the next item from its place. It was a spear, the tip formed by a swirling vortex that could eviscerate a spirit on contact.
My form couldn’t use it. I kept it with me, perhaps to drain of it of energy once the concentration in the air lessened.
I tried several artifacts, a variety of weapons and jewels that proved useless. My doll body either couldn’t use the magic items, or they were not strong enough to overcome the dampening the body put on my spell casting to be worthwhile.
A rain of red smashed into the walkway, throttling the lines of magic carved into them and likely melting the metal. A few artifacts were thrown from their pedestals and fell long to the ground.
I glanced up at the starry sky, at Mima, and cursed her. The damned witch obviously understood what I intended and would deny me the goddess’ tools. She wouldn’t approach me, afraid of what I might do to her, but she didn’t need the artifacts herself.
Multitudes of colors streaked forth from around me, stopping short of connecting with anything useful. The yellow ooze protected the white of the tower and Mima kept herself shielded enough. With the restraints built-in to my doll body, I couldn’t punch through any barriers on my own.
The time I wasted trying to retaliate allowed Mima to blow up more of the walkway, the artifacts closest to me falling away.
I erected dozen of barriers around me to ward off the strikes of yellow and white arcing towards me. I used the seconds they bought me to analyze the remaining artifacts.
They all felt useful to me. They were all calling to me, each artifact emitting alluring auras. Yet I know that their overly-specific usages were not enough. I needed something that wasn’t raw power.
Then I came across it.
I overloaded my barriers and shattered them, shards of color launched out in a distracting cloud. Under the cover of my spells, I willed my doll body to fly towards the book.
It felt perfect, exactly what I needed.
The room, with all the energy stored within, had obscured the familiar feeling I had felt before. When I had a living body, I had been enraptured by the call of the artifact. Finally, in that white tower far from the goddess’ vault, I could answer it.
I darted around, avoiding the bolts of yellow attempting to destroy me. Ahead of me, I launched waves of colors to protect the artifact waiting on its pedestal. Mima was bombarding that section of the walkway with painfully bright light, a fusillade of stars I presumed.
Even if I couldn’t see her face, I imagined the witch in a panic. Her perfectly commanded colors lost their pleasing shapes. Her spells became sloppy but numerous. Hundreds of projectiles were sent raining down on the book I wanted.
My shields were being torn apart quickly. Yet, the hastily thrown out defenses bought me enough time to reach the artifact.
Once my fingers glanced the cover of the tome, I-
An electric surge erupted through my nonexistent nerves.
A wizard emblazoned his spell’s formula onto paper, imparting all his wisdom and knowledge into his newest grimoire.
Warmth spread across my reinforced porcelain skin.
A witch wrote down her newest concoction, a poison that would liquefy the drinker and leave them ripe for harvesting.
My missing blood circulated faster and faster.
A necromancer laughed as he sketched the newest runes to entrap his victim’s souls into his service, the designs replicating themselves across the pages.
Everything was wrong, but it was all right.
A mage screamed as his self was absorbed and recorded, his attempts to break down the enchantments of the tome a complete failure.
Knowledge flooded into my mind.
A shaman fell ill and used the last of his life to inscribe his hastily prepared soul-wards for his successors to wield.
Spells and processes familiar yet different became known to me.
A diviner tossed away the grimoire, her fear of the tome recording her premonitions too great.
Everything I had learned, but more. It was refined.
A mystic cried out as his spirit animal was devoured and unraveled, every aspect of its creation and existence documented.
I knew, without reading, that more lay within the tome.
A warlock circled his sacrifice in a ring of her blood, drawing out her essence to the tune of her screams, the same designs bleeding onto the tome.
The grimoire had shared with me its compatible secrets.
An enchantress worked protection after protection upon her prize, only for each spell to be subsumed by the grimoire.
A demon read the words, stringing together spells to reclaim the scattered parts of her soul, the new spell imprinting itself upon the pages.
Rather, I took from it everything I could recognize.
The restraint enchantments inside my body tried to hold back the torrent of knowledge. They tried to restrict the infusion of power. They tried to serve their purpose, to keep me safe from channeling magic beyond me, even in my current state.
My body shattered into thousands of shards. Every strand of my silver hair and every thread of my engineer’s clothing came undone. Doll limbs and ball joints could not contain me. The form I had taken shelter in ceased to be. My soul was laid bare to be picked away at. I lost the protection a body provided.
But I didn’t need it any longer.
Free in the air once more, I had access to my natural finesse in energy control, finely honed due to my abnormal condition. Even adding onto that the ludicrous amounts of ambient energy and the massive swelling of my personal energy I still could not combat my enemies.
Access to dozens of prepared spells in the artifacts helped. The sudden, instinctive understanding of new spells and complex constructs proved to be what I needed.
I deflected a flurry of yellow and white lances with an interlinked barrier, similar in style to a fine filter. The flexibility compared to rigid barriers and shields kept it strong and efficient.
If I had the body I might have laughed.
Instead, I twisted the energy around me and compressed it further. One hundred rectangular steel sheets appeared in the air around my grimoire in one second. On their faces were etched the enchantments I needed. The cards shot into the air, spreading out in a coordinated manner. A few stars and rays of white targeted them, but Mima kept the majority of her pressure on me.
The yellow magic of the tower also continued to target me and only me. The automated attacks the tower guardian had set up were meant to rip apart spirits. Along with the oozing coating on the walls, it all seemed the perfect containment system for the sudden release of unruly spirits.
Once they were in position, my cards lit up, drawing energy from the air and spraying it outwards in waves of multi-colored bullets.
I turned my attention to the ceiling for three seconds, setting into motion tidal waves of bright red energy that began to scour the walls, falling down and rising up to overwhelm the yellow anti-spirit spells.
Thousands of arrow heads flashed into existence, holding still long enough for me to load them with tiny magical barriers, before spiraling outwards and disrupting the attacks against me. Along with the spherical pulses of magic I kept producing at a steady tempo, the projectile spells launched at me became fragmented and were blown away.
I focused on the splotch of midnight that was Mima and pulled on her. For a moment, I felt the witch expand to the point of breaking before she shut me out. I reapplied my energy, collapsing on the witch’s soul like a pack of wolves. I ripped and tore at her from every direction. She couldn’t sustain her scything crescents and searing stars without sacrificing the bits and chunks of her I sought to take for myself.
It was easy. With my opponent on the back foot, I could work my magic to ruin her without worry.
“YuugenMagan!” the cry went out, “get us out of here!”
I felt the teleportation magic form. It gathered in the structure of the tower and formed a circle in the floor underneath those it would transport. The energy was stored until the spell could pull those it would transport into the tower itself and spit them out somewhere else.
I tried to disrupt it, but a few spears of metal were not enough to break the spell formed in the walkway underneath Mima. The midnight splotch, and the much tinier form she moved nearer to, disappeared.
With all my targets dealt with, my mind immediately switched gears. I wanted out. I wanted my family. I wanted that terrible tower and everything it represented gone.
The amount of energy in the air was already noticeably lower. Massive quantities of the energy were being drained from the room and there was nothing replacing it. I had broken the soul container that had been drawing upon spirits to out produce the goddess’ power.
The grimoire floating in the air opened. The pages flipped rapidly to the spell I needed. I read it, without eyes. I didn’t see the text, but the spell it described carved into the pages of the grimoire was made known to me.
Exactly in accordance with the grimoire, I dragged together the necessary spell components. A pentagram formed in the air, a circle inlaid with every modifier needed to enhance its power.
Then a grey laser appeared from the magic circle. It was a finely controlled beam, nothing like the barely controlled explosive power other magicians used. Mima’s finger lasers came close in control, but not in strength.
My laser’s target, the point where energy was funneled out of the room, disappeared.
The ceiling crumpled. Parts of the structure’s enchantment, and the stone itself I presumed, disintegrated in my laser. Other parts fell down, bouncing off the metal walkways and smacking into the floor.
The few stray spirits left flew towards the hole in the room.
I flew up and plucked them from the air along the way. They were mindless evil spirits, the weakest of the thousands that had been trapped within the soul prison. Their singular emotions barely helped generate the energy stored in the room. Likewise, they provided little substance for me, barely elevating my personal reserves.
I quickly skimmed the chamber, levitating the artifacts I had missed. They were each powerful, diverse in effect but none benign. I doubted they could be immediately useful, but they each held promise.
I floated up towards the hole I created, leaving behind a tidal wave. The red energy crashed from wall to wall in the chamber, growing larger and larger as it gorged itself on the remaining over-concentration of energy. It helped deplete the reserves faster and faster, until nothing would be left for the tower’s guardian to use.
I didn’t know what else was in the new room I entered, but I didn’t care. The white walls of the tower continued to surround me.
Lasers stretched out, decimating the walls.
I flowed through each hole, annihilating sections of the enchanted walls wherever I went. They were weak, far weaker than when I first felt them. Energy was being drained from the walls, redirected elsewhere, leaving the protective wards underpowered.
Eventually, I freed myself of the damned tower. I could see the wonderful rainbow of colors in the air.
In what must have been the metropolis, a chaotic mess of colors was bandying about. It appeared to me like a group of children flinging paints at canvas. Colors of all shades and forms were lobbed around the outside, crashing against each other.
What was going on?
I focused, trying to make sense of the flows of energy.
It must have been a battle, a massive fight on a scale too large to keep track of. Magic signatures blended together, becoming difficult to decipher.
The goddess’ hue of purple was easiest to recognize. It was the largest, brightest patch that was darting through the air. It coated the sky, forming half of a dome over the metropolis.
The other half was of faded yellow that stretched from the tower. The red and yellow eyes that had temporarily watched me inside were all along the outer surface of the pure white tower. From them, yellow streaked outwards to connect with the goddess’ magic. Every attack of purple was met with a defense of yellow and vice versa.
Around me, I tried to identify the other sources of magic. A silver magic that felt awfully similar to the goddess’ was being blasted about. It was the third-largest source of magic in the air, but it did not collide with anything magical. Each new streak seemed to disappear abruptly.
No, not quite. Focusing further, I thought I felt a tiny smidgeon of magic wherever the silver streaks ended. Someone was there, interrupting the spells.
Other spells were in the air, but it was too difficult to identify the much smaller sources. I thought I could notice Yuki’s magic or Mai’s magic on occasion, but it was a mess. It was too difficult. I had never been able to see everybody’s magic in such clarity. I had no experience in figuring out whose casting was what. I had the vaguest hints about what was known to me and what was not.
I wanted to see. I wanted to know what was happening!
I wanted eyes. I wanted more than colors!
With all the new knowledge available to me, I couldn’t understand the simplest of things! What had happened? Who was fighting? Why were they ignoring me? Who could I attack? Who would I attack? Who was best to take?
[ ] Attacked the… -[ ] Yellow and red eyes -[ ] White of the tower -[ ] Silver streaks -[ ] Swirl of colors below [ ] Looked for a body… -[ ] A familiar body -[ ] Any body [ ] <Write-in>
Sorry for the wait. Hopefully I can pick up the pace and finish this all up in the next few weeks.
Geysers of red exploded from the tower walls. Arcs of blue danced on along the curved white I could see. Green gears jammed into the walls and spun, spinning a path around the tower.
My magic was unleashed in a matter of seconds.
I felt the white of tower shimmer brighter. The external walls held strong, unlike their inner counterparts. Those yellow and red eyes on and around the white tower turned to me immediately and observed my actions.
A few of them shattered into tiny magical fragments when I shot them with lasers.
The tower guardian was a nuisance. A pest. A parasite that sapped the lives of thousands to try and overpower her mother!
I tried again, casting multiple high concentration lasers at the tower, similar to the kind I had used to escape that wicked place. The beams rebounded or ineffectively disappeared into the enchantments.
Yellow rays fired back at me. They hurt! My prismatic barriers absorbed the majority of the attacks, but the few rays that refracted enough to reach me burned. Everything hurt! I could perceive the slightest flows of magical energy, and the slightest offensive lick was enough to carve into my soul. It seared hotter than any flame and burned more than any poison. I was tired of it! Tired of the pain and tired of that tower!
She didn’t even care about me! The eyes shifted back towards the goddess’ purple, ignoring me in favor of what she thought the larger threat was. I launched my own barrage of attacks, but they were easily brushed off by the defensive warding on the tower. My spells couldn’t scratch the outside of the tower, and the tower guardian seemed unimpeded by the eyes I destroyed.
Ultimately, I didn’t have enough energy. Between the goddess and a goddess-fighting weapon, I was a puff of inconsequential smoke.
The tower was the problem. I knew it wasn’t producing any more energy. I had broken and destroyed and absorbed and removed and wasted their precious generator. Yet, the tower itself likely stored as much energy as if not more than, the soul prison’s room did. If every single brick in its construction was meant to have the same amount of warding, there was plenty to redistribute.
It made sense given that the inner walls I had passed through were mostly devoid of energy. With the tower stretching from ceiling to floor and perhaps further underground, I had no doubt YuugenMagan was siphoning energy from irrelevant areas to the outside to combat the goddess.
I could put a stop to that easily enough.
I streaked back in through the hole I had exited from. The few dozen artifacts were still floating with me, ready to be used as needed.
The strongest and most numerous spells found in the grimoire would do nothing to inanimate walls, but there were more than enough ways for me to destroy the stonework. The pages of the grimoire flipped, each page imparting a new spell for me to repurpose and employ: flaming cannonballs, acid-filled boulders, rays of polar winds, blazing blasts of light, and more pure energy spells than grains of rice in a bag.
I flew unimpeded through the structure. Barely-powered enchantments dissolved during my advance. Fully-powered walls resisted my spells, but often ricocheted my magic into under-powered wards. I bounced between the fully-powered walls, unleashing every single magic my mind could think up.
I would have laughed if I could have. My emotions were bright. The joy at unrestrained magic usage clashed with the utter hatred for the tower I was demolishing from the inside. I was all emotions, I love and hate and exhilaration and rage.
How long did I stay like that, rampaging about without a higher thought? I was smarter than that! I wasn’t some mindless evil spirit!
The thoughts brought me to a crashing halt in order to assess the situation.
I had accomplished nothing.
I was no architect. I couldn’t see the layout of the tower, what I had demolished. But I could watch the flow of energy, and I saw that there were more than enough connections throughout the tower remaining. Deep inside the tower I couldn’t sense the outside, but I could assume the tower guardian’s abilities had remained undiminished.
I hated to admit that I wasn’t strong enough to break the wards on the walls if they were filled with energy. For all that I had gained from the soul prison, I was at best on par with someone like Mima.
Magic in the air sizzled around me, in tune with my annoyance. If someone were in the room, I imagined they would cook.
It wasn’t enough.
I wasn’t enough!
For all that I could destroy and smash and kill and devour I couldn’t stop the damn tower! My powers weren’t enough!
I scoured the artifacts I had taken, looking for something better.
Wails that could slay any mortal.
Rays that would disintegrate a man’s soul.
Thrusts that could ravage a person’s mind.
Clouds that would melt flesh.
I was tempted to smash the useless things into the wall. For all the energy they held, they were too specific!
I began to flip the pages of the history-filled grimoire again, analyzing each spell I came across.
Nothing. Nothing that would help destroy the tower I hadn’t already used! I could not bind the tower’s soul to my service. I could not seal the tower’s soul into a gem and conveniently crush it. I could not consign the tower’s soul to a sleepless void, forever terrifying it with hauntings from the darkest corners of its mind!
Useless useless useless!
The artifacts were useless! My new knowledge was useless! My creations and other imaginative spells would doubtlessly be useless! I couldn’t stop the bastards because I couldn’t destroy their damned tower!
…But the tower was only one-half of the equation.
YuugenMagan, the tower’s guardian manipulating the stored magical energy, was somewhere. She had to be somewhere in the tower to control it.
I could find her. If I could reach her, I could end her.
I scanned the air for what I sought, homing in on the strands of yellow. I tracked them to where a tiny yellow and red eye watched me.
A flick of concentration caught the eye in a kaleidoscope-like cage. I felt it try to disappear, to cease to exist, but it failed. I empowered the eye with my own energy, preventing the true caster from canceling their blatant scrying spell.
Drawing close to the eye, I began to trace it. I didn’t know any advanced counter-intelligence spells. The grimoire, for all the spells it held, did not either.
However, I didn’t need any of that. When I concentrated, I could see the faintest of connections from the eye to elsewhere. A scrying spell would be useless if it didn’t relay information back to the caster. I could follow that information, that magic, back.
It was slow but steady progress. The connection was routed through the walls of the tower itself, forcing me to make my way around the still-standing inner walls.
I found myself drawn downwards. Closer and closer to the base of the tower, more and more of the inner walls were filled with energy. It seemed like YuugenMagan was draining the tower of energy from the top down as necessary.
Eventually, I was forced to stop. Blinding white warding blocked my path.
I tore into the enchanted walls and doors with reds and blues, blacks and greens, but it wasn’t enough. Much like the outer walls, I couldn’t break through the fully-shielded sections of the towers.
I knew she was there. More eyes had appeared along the walls, watching my progress. I could feel her waiting behind her fancy defenses. She was right there. She watched but did nothing, because she thought I couldn’t reach her.
I wouldn’t be stopped. She couldn’t stop me!
All I needed was more energy. More energy, more power beyond what my new self could provide. If I had the goddess’ glowing, purple wings I would have easily been able to force my way through!
Her wings? I didn’t need her wings. After all, I had more of her artifacts with me.
Once the barest hints of a plan came across my mind, I acted on them. I drew the artifacts I had levitated with me into a pile, sorting the useless ones from the less useless ones.
Choosing the six or so that I deemed completely expendable, I forced them to explode.
The blast of energy fell upon me like a wave, picking me up and throwing me against solid enchantments. It was a minor discomfort compared to what I gained.
As soon as I could, I rushed forward to inspect the damage. The enchantments on the wall I wanted to break through were barely scratched. They held true against such a basic release of magical energy.
A few seconds later, the wall crumpled. My energy drill, powered by the excess energies of the former powerful magic items, broke straight through. It scattered stone and dispelled wards with brutal efficiency.
I hurried forth, quickly repeating the process. I broke down artifact after artifact, reducing them to clouds of energy I could draw upon to tear through the tower’s defenses.
I ignored the dozens of eyes watching my progress until the walls began to ooze with yellow, additional enchantments to reinforce the already formidable defenses. The tower began to lash out at me, familiar whips of yellow sailing through the air and frying my soul wherever they passed.
It hurt, but I was so close! The pain couldn’t cripple me! My mind grew cloudy, filled with agony and anger intertwined, but I didn’t need to think!
My energy drills devolved until I was simply pushing the loose magical energy forward. I hammered the walls relentlessly, a veritable barbarian at the gates. The fact that my senses were filled with yellow spurred me on like a confused bull. I was close! So very close!
I burst through the last wall. The tower guardian’s inner sanctum was laid bare to me.
Inside that dismal room, I felt it. The throbbing, pulsing yellow that was connected to the tower sat in the center.
I knew it! I knew there was a person, a living soul, directing the defenses.
I didn’t know what she looked like in that moment.
I imagine her form was similar to how she appeared in more peaceful times; a mature, yellow-haired woman in a shrine maiden-like outfit. What was she feeling in that moment? Was she panicked, dealing with my presence inside and the goddess’ outside? Was she calm, completely prepared to accomplish her duty no matter the situation? Was she delighted, finally able to match her powers against the greatest challenge in her life? Had she lived a happy life? A sad one? Did she look up with her own two eyes? Did she see a floating book and the specter behind it? An amalgamation of thousands of souls? A furious little girl tired of it all? A reprehensible monster?
I didn’t know.
I didn’t care.
I swooped down on the source of it all in the center of the room. I batted aside hurriedly cast spells and ignored the jagged spikes of pain from where magic landed true.
I enveloped that quivering, beating core of magic and devoured it.
There were no comparisons. A pack of wolves wearing down their prey were too slow. A tiger ripping into its meal was too wasteful. A python swallowing its dinner wasn’t vicious enough.
I casted dozens of spells, the ripest and most powerful ones that had been eagerly waiting to be used, in the span of a few seconds. Overpower, subjugate, crush, shred, consume, absorb. It was beautiful in its practicality. There was no joining of minds, no last words or final wills. Everything that she was I took in itty bitty pieces, not pausing to examine any of it.
One instant, she lived. Another, she did not.
Once its controller was dead and gone, the tower lost any semblance of life. The yellow and red eyes shattered. The walls lost some of their luster. The constant flow of energy, redirected from sections of the tower, ended. Nobody was manning the defense any longer.
I couldn’t smile or cheer, but I was delighted. I had been burned and seared on my way down, large chunks of myself destroyed by foreign magic, but it didn’t matter. The one who had afflicted such suffering was gone and her magical expertise had been delicious. For myself, and for the grimoire. I could already tell the artifact had written unto itself dozens of new spells, ones casted at me and others embedded in loose fragments of the former tower guardian’s mind.
I drifted back up along the path I had descended. Without the annoyance of the tower, my mind began to refocus on other needs, not even a few scant minutes wasted on revelries.
I saw, I tasted, I felt, I heard, I smelt, magic. And only magic. It was glorious yet unrewarding. I wanted to know what it was I destroyed. With all my new knowledge, I could only guess at the situation! It was demeaning!
I felt my anger bubbling forth once more. I deserved more than that! Despite my strength, I was still less complete than a newborn baby! It was a terrible injustice that needed to be fixed.
My senses reached out, looking for eyes and ears. I knew there were hundreds, thousands outside that awaited me. But I did not want to dive into the ludicrous battle that was taking place while still incomplete.
Before I reached the hole back to the outside, I felt it.
It was perfect, just what I needed.
I raced towards that feeling, smashing aside the under-powered walls as I went.
My target stopped moving when I plowed into the room it occupied, allowing me to easily plunge down upon it-
After my stomach emptied itself, I was kept hacking and coughing for a minute more. I shuddered at how disgusting it was. It looked disgusting, tasted disgusting, felt disgusting, sounded disgusting, and smelt disgusting.
A quick flexing of my fingers conjured a stream of water to wash my mouth out. Although my spell casting was impaired slightly, my new new body was not specifically designed to reduce magic flows like before.
It didn’t have any special benefits towards spell casting either, but I could live with that. From what I could tell, everything seemed stable. My new body was more than capable of housing my enlarged self, and all the extra energy that brought, without breakage. As long as I did what I always did, relying mostly on ambient energies to cast spells, there wouldn’t be a problem.
Not on the magical side, at least.
I tried to step forward and flopped face first into the slurry of water and vomit.
“Gruugh,” I croaked, wiping the nasty mixture off with another spray of water and a gust of wind. Readjusting to a body was more difficult than I anticipated.
I spent several minutes rolling my shoulders and testing other movements. Muscle memories ingrained into the fit body came to me second-nature. I was running through the halls of the tower and jumping through holes in no time.
I made sure to kick-off the horrid shoes on my feet as well.
At last, I could appreciate the damage I caused. The interior walls were made of white stone, reflecting the magical energy that ran through them.
Wherever I had been, the walls were not so pristine. Some stones were covered in ash, others in black tar. Some had been reddened and others yellowed, their compositions markedly changed by the passing of my magic. It was fulfilling to touch the walls that had become as coarse as sandpaper thanks to a whirlwind or five I had conjured.
Otherwise, there was little to see of the tower. My route did not take me through any special rooms or mock-destroyed villages, just endless side halls and maintenance shafts. Beyond the damage I had caused, it was completely uninteresting.
To alleviate the boredom of skipping and flying through holes in the walls, I flipped through my grimoire. Along with a few rings and other trinkets, it was the last of the goddess’ artifacts I had not detonated for their energy.
Nothing beat the sensations of skin sliding across quality parchment. Smooth but not perfect, the small dips in the material and bumps from the ink were an experience unto their own. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t read a large majority of the actual text within, but I hardly needed written directions when the spells themselves were eager to be called upon.
The only sight within the tower that drew my attention from the tome was the hole I made to escape that room.
I dropped back in for a moment to survey what I had left behind.
It disappointed me, even if it was what I wanted, to feel that the ridiculous concentration of magical energy in the tower’s generator room had been used up. My spells had bled the air of energy like a fire of oxygen. The room itself was no longer anything special, claiming only its size for a mark of greatness.
I felt nothing but triumph when I floated down to the ruined soul prison. The large spherical glass container had housed thousands of spirits, using them like hamsters on a wheel. After what I accomplished, someone could fill it with water and have a large fish tank at best.
The melted walkways and stained walls meant nothing to me. What did raise my ire was the puddle of metal I came across on the floor of the room. It was silent, accompanied by the bits and remains of my other creations. Months of hard work had been unraveled in no time while I was not there to protect them. That woman no doubt had destroyed them after consigning me to her infernal device.
I laughed and knelt down next to the familiar figure. I picked myself up by the shoulders and appraised me. No way.
The damage wasn’t too great. My clothes suffered from the minor duel I had with the ghostly witch. My arm was broken and covered with blood, but it wasn’t the worst damage I had seen. Like a lifeless doll, my body must have fallen from far above after the green-haired bitch killed me with an impromptu animatomy.
I smiled and lifted my body up, waving my arm in a friendly wave. “What a pretty doll,” I commented. I danced with myself for a bit before unceremoniously dropping the blonde body.
It might have held some sentimental value, but that body wasn’t practical. It was weak physically and magically. My current body, while not magically potent, was more durable than the one I had died in.
“Enough playing around,” I growled and flew back up through the hole in the ceiling. I quickly rummaged through the bag on my shoulder before dropping that as well. The trinkets in there were truly useless. All I needed was the grimoire in hand and the few other apparel artifacts for emergency energy. I also kept the few knives on my person – I doubted they could do much more than my magic, but they could come in handy. If nothing else, a source of metal was helpful to keep around.
I landed on the lip of the hole to the outside. I stood on small conjured metal plates to prevent the jagged stonework from cutting my feet.
Sheesh. I was right. It was a magical battlefield outside.
Even with true eyesight, it was difficult to follow what was occurring. The area around the tower had been thinned out some, the urban sprawl brought to the ground by stray magic. In the rubble-strewn streets far below, I saw demons hacking each other apart with whatever was available. It was the realm of the magic-less, a place where metropolis demons reigned supreme because of their numbers.
Just above them, dogfighting in between buildings, were all sorts of magic users. I could easily make out a pair of witched blasting apart their foes, a powerful medley of fire and ice. The city demons held that level of combat, the quality of their magic users simply better than the metropolis masses.
Further above them were the elites. I saw the goddess’ first child flying circles around the goddess’ embodiment of restraint. It was impossible to track any one projectile in that mess. Flying swords mixed easily with fireballs, energy bolts, arcs of lightning, and everything else.
What used to be a battle between gods had ended. The tower was silent, all traces of its yellow-eyed guardian gone. The victorious goddess floated on purple wings, surveying the carnage below her.
No, that was wrong. She was busy as well, bringing back the dead.
Bodies were reconstructed from the inside out by magic. Floating organs quickly were covered up, turned into functional humanoid bodies. The goddess took the souls of the fallen city demons and gave them new bodies to fight-on with. The souls of the fallen metropolis demons likewise rose to the goddess’ possession, but they found no new forms.
The few demons that tried to interrupt the goddess’ revivals were stopped by a sizeable troupe of gatekeepers.
It was one of those gatekeepers that noticed me first. She jammed her fist through her opponent’s stomach before quickly flying over to me, the hole she left in the defensive formation quickly filled.
“Sis!” she cried, somehow audible over the sounds of battle.
The pink-haired gatekeeper drew short of hugging me, but the joy in her eyes was palpable. She was babbling to me, her words coming out rushed and excited. I did my best to listen to better understand what was happening.
“When Mother said she felt you entering the tower the rest of us were so worried but we couldn’t just break-off and follow you! Then after negotiations broke down we couldn’t exactly go in and get you but it’s great to see you’re okay!”
I interrupted with the gatekeeper with a grunt. “What’s happening out here?” I asked her, trying to cut down on her useless rambling.
She glanced back over her shoulder before nodding. “We were having a rough time, especially keeping Mother in control, but luckily that tower isn’t lighting up anymore. With Mother calm and actively restoring our fighters, we should be able to finish matters in a few-”
A shriek interrupted her.
That’s not good. It was a cry that silenced almost the entire battlefield. It was the goddess’ screech that echoed in the hearts of all her children.
The only other sounds were the roaring of flames and the cackling of an icy-haired woman.
Looking over the gatekeeper’s shoulders, I could see the goddess’ first child holding her staff in both hands, the weapon jammed down the blonde maid’s throat. Her jagged plate armor and her natural over-resilience did nothing to prevent raw magic from scorching her insides. She was a torch, her features obscured and melted by the flames that burned from within.
Purple bolts smashed down onto the pair, breaking the staff and separating them, but the damage was done. I could feel another soul slip up and away towards her goddess.
“No Mother, don’t!” The pink-haired gatekeeper shouted and flew off.
Far off, a mess of purple and red dived, her rage-filled voice carrying throughout the metropolis. It was the signal for battle to rejoin, for demons to continue to kill one another, any hope for an organized end to the chaos gone.
The return to battle called to me, as well. I took in the battle again, wondering where best I could go. The air battle was filled with spells, especially with the goddess reintroduction to the fray, but there were far more people on the ground, the vast majority of the demons fighting in the dirt.
[ ] Joined the air conflict [ ] Battled upon the earth [ ] <Write-in>
>FUCK OFF! >I quickly rummaged through the bag on my shoulder before dropping that as well. The trinkets in there were truly useless. [...] I also kept the few knives on my person Did, did Alice just possess Ko? Was the body modified or did Sara see her as Ko? Let's find a mirror once the battle is over.
[X] Battled upon the earth It took us all we had to take down Yuugen Magan, and now we're no longer just a spirit, so we can't use magic quite as well. Better than our human form though. We're really.. gonna have to make this up to Ko.
But I think that staying out of the way of the raging goddess and her firstborn would be best. That situation looks like it spells DOOM
After a quick hop off the ledge, I was cruising towards the chaos. The main hazard area was around the goddess and her more powerful children. Only the combatants with the best spells or utmost confident in their skills dared to enter that fray on one side or the other.
With that in mind, I diverted my course and narrowed in on a smaller battle. It would be stupid to try and fight in the big league without testing my new body in some way. A quick warm-up would help me adjust and top me off with a fraction more power.
Two pairs of demons were squaring off, launching all manners of elemental spells at each other. An average magician might find themselves hard pressed to defend against a dizzying area of evocations while effectively counter-attacking.
Those demons were average.
I laughed and dived straight onto one of them. He barely spared me a glance, assuming a tripartite of wind arrows would be enough to deter me.
I formed pinpoint energy barriers at the tips of my fingers and swatted the insulting magic away. When he looked up again it was too late for him. I wrapped one arm around his neck and hugged him while we shot downwards. I felt a tingle, his intent to electrify me all too clear from the way he prepared his spell.
A quick whisper brought him to an end. Yikes. His screams hurt my ear, but luckily they stopped after a second. Overall, it was highly unsatisfying. The magician demon was hardly more substantive than a well-aged evil spirit. I dropped his lifeless corpse and turned back to the others.
Without his partner, the other demon was put on the back foot by his two foes. Once he began transitioning to a one-hundred percent defensive spells, I knew he wouldn’t last long.
Focusing my thoughts to drain the demons of themselves was hardly worth the effort. Instead, I decided to test the rest of my capabilities.
I drew a knife from the bandolier around my chest and twirled it between my fingers. Glancing up at the three demons still slinging magic above me, I narrowed my eyes at my target and tossed the knife.
They truly were pathetic. My knife went unnoticed by my target until it lodged deep into his thigh. While it shouldn’t have been much worry to a flying, spell slinging magician, the pain distracted the demon enough for his two opponents to roast him. Goodbye.
My body was in perfect condition, all factors considered. It remembered every well-trained skill. The only question remaining was, how much could I draw upon with no prior experience?
Flying to test the last unknown, I charged the pair of demons who foolishly sought to take a break in the middle of combat. I soared past the falling, burning body and ripped my knife from the leg, removing the limb from the corpse at the same time.
Unlike the previous two, this pair of demons took note of my approach. They looked relieved for a second, and alarmed once they saw me outstretch my gleaming knife. They unleashed a twin shot of lighting toward me. Oh shit.
I rolled to the side, the sudden evasion disorientating enough that I needed to slow. I got over it and sped up once more, but my momentary stop gave the pair enough time to work a better spell. Find the gaps. I relied upon reflexes to weave my way through a dual scattershot of earthen spikes. Hngh. It wasn’t flawless, but the minor scrapes on my extremities were worrying.
Displaying a lifetime of training and skill I never developed myself was disconcerting, but it worked well enough.
High then low. I swung at one of the demons, transitioning into a diagonal cartwheel that had my heel connect with his temple. Faster. The man rolled with it and brought up a fiery fist to immolate me, but the move was too slow. Overwhelm him. I kept whirling, bringing my knife around and around while using my legs to strike whenever a chance appeared. The demon couldn’t keep up. Don’t let him concentrate. His hastily cast spells missed me completely because I stuck to him like glue. When my knife sliced through his neck, his time was over.
Flip, evade. The demon behind me screamed, a wide breath of flames immolating his former partner. I imagined it was meant for me, but I had dodged and then moved on to him. Down then up. He didn’t fare much better. Cross, back, then in. My body sliced him to ribbons. All in all, it had taken only a few minutes to clear away those four.
It left me feeling confident enough to approach the goddess’ battle.
I waited on the fringe of the intense combat, observing the chaos and looking for an opening.
The goddess’ attack and her firstborn’s defense was the center of it all. There was no beauty there. The goddess, a poor spell caster herself, was pumping energy from her wings in a never-ending torrent of magic. The pure red bolts were shot forward without grace or trickery, with speed and power that matched modern rotary cannons. They didn’t disappear or bend or multiply. There were no tricks. It was brute force magic that would wear down any defense and crush any unprepared person.
It kept her firstborn on the defensive. The blue-clad demon was fleeing from the goddess, a bevy of barriers constantly held in place. For the most part she was evading, doing her best to break her line with the goddess to avoid that torrent of energy. The barriers were there to absorb the occasional second of fire that managed to connect.
The way the two spun wreaked havoc for the combatants around them. Buildings were scythed in two wherever the goddess swept her fire. The goddess’ bullets did not know friend from foe and destroyed anybody caught unaware. Gatekeeper and metropolis demon alike had their bodies reduced to bloody mist while the goddess tried to target her firstborn.
The magicians in the air around the goddess were mostly fine. Fiery shields and stout walls were kept up to withstand an accidental grazing from the goddess’ spell. It was hardly a drain on the ones who fought while they dueled their foes.
What was strange was seeing the gatekeepers combat the metropolis’ magicians. The low-magic demons held their own in all cases. I watched pink-haired gatekeeper pursue the blonde bat-winged magician with vigor. While the bat girl rained down blasts of powerful energy, the gatekeeper dodged what she could and punched what she couldn’t. Her gauntleted fist was left smoking but working just fine. Much like the goddess’ strongest creation, the gatekeepers appeared to rely on extreme martial prowess to remain competitive.
Not only remain competitive, but succeed. I watched the pink-haired gatekeeper catch a whip of dark thorns, black corruption visibly spreading along her gauntlet. Even with her entire arm trembling, the gatekeeper pulled on the magical whip. The bat girl let her spell go a moment too late, her victorious grin transforming to panic when she was moved a meter closer to her opponent. That small distance was enough for the pink-haired gatekeeper to close quickly and catch the bat girl’s neck in a bone-crunching punch.
While the gatekeeper immediately moved off to another target, I considered my own abilities. There wasn’t any problem for me to engage. I was more than capable of magically dueling those involved, except for the goddess. It was overconfidence on the bat girl’s part, an arrogant belief that her magic was all she needed, that led to her death. With my body, I imagined I would not be caught in the same mistake by any of my targets.
Assured of my situation, I picked out a target and moved to attack- when I caught glimpse of her. All but invisible to physical eyes, my magical senses were hyper alert, able to pick out the light streaks of midnight cursing the battle.
Through the center, underneath. I growled and shot towards the ghost who was sneakily sniping unaware demons. With the confusion of combat everywhere, it was easy to overlook a cloud of magical energy or not see it at all compared to the bright gouts of fire seeking one’s face.
Demons along my path attacked me out of reflex, but they were irrelevant. Their spells were too weak and their arms too slow. A speck of concentration was all I needed to form the shells necessary to deflect their snap attacks. Skirt to the left. If a demon was foolish enough to move directly into my path, they met their end on the tip of my knife or a devouring graze by my fingers.
My course took me perilously close to the goddess’ rampage, but luckily the main focus of her magical barrage laid in another direction.
“Mother, stop this! That damned snake of a woman is gone! Let her stay gone!” I heard the goddess’ firstborn shout.
I didn’t care, but I was hypersensitive in the middle of the battle. I couldn’t shut it out if I wanted to. Against all the wordless screams and cries, her voice stood out. The best I could do was ignore it, any sound almost useless in tracking the ghost’s movements.
The concentration of midnight sky was letting loose with a spray of lasers when I reached her. She must have sensed my energy take form because she dived immediately, canceling her spell and leaving her chosen prey left full of cuts instead of completely bisected.
I had a plethora of spells to choose from, but one attack in my memory stood out to me. Rapidly flipping through the pages of my grimoire, I found a variant of the spell I wanted and unleashed it.
Six shadowy orbs rippled into existence around me. They spun once in a fast circle before darting after my target. They spun and weaved towards the ghost but ultimately missed, harmlessly speeding through air and disappearing into a building.
As soon as the first set had been fired, I conjured another six shots. Then another six. Then another. I could have worked any number of different spells, but decided to focus all my effort on that one to infinity.
The ghost quickly reformed her body, a nasty snarl on her face. “You damned puppet!” I heard her cry. She punctuated her statement with a wheel of bright blue fire.
I laughed and unleashed another round of my spell, glad she finally decided to stand still.
Through and around. I quickly dived through the attack, the motion coming easily. That burns! The blazing heat was a nonfactor once I pushed away the sensations of pain.
I grinned in delight when the witch whipped out a hand, a powerful barrier formed to block my attack. Like any confident magician, she deemed her defenses strong and disregarded them in favor of forming a new counterattack against me.
The dark orbs I conjured scattered the defensive spell, disrupting the underlying magical structure and forcing the barriers to break down.
The ghost, to her credit, reacted immediately and once more dived away. In the worst luck possible, my attack managed to graze the ghost’s form, eliciting a delightful scream from the witch but unfortunately alerting her to the danger my spell possessed.
A threat to any living being, my attack meant total annihilation for a spirit like her.
The chase began, the ghost wisely deciding never to stand still where I could easily hit her. She resorted to the same tactics I had seen her use before, mixing various bombardment magic with physical obstructions in the form of bewitched demons to slow me down.
I took advantage of my body’s nimbleness to dance through the battlefield and gain better shots on the ghostly witch, her attacks mostly for naught. Jugular. I was no expert swordsman, able to cut down any enthralled demon in a single blow, but I was apparently exceedingly accurate with knives. Hamstring. I didn’t need to think when I blazed by any of the ghost’s forced servants. Elbow. My body dealt them all an injury of some sort, if not lethal than highly aggravating. Rotator cuff. It was enough to distract them, to leave them prey to the battle around us. Ow. The scratches they were able to put on me weren’t enough to slow me down.
The ghost was frustrating me. She was leading me around, doing her best to shake me. I couldn’t understand why. I knew she could have gotten creative, thrown herself into an unorthodox attack that would catch me by surprise, but she didn’t. She seemed content to save her energy and try to dissuade me from reaching her.
“You have been suppressed for too long, I understand!” That annoying voice shouted once more, both angry and anguished in the same tone. I hadn’t noticed how close we had drawn to the goddess. “Mima, hurry up! I’m tiring too quickly!”
I narrowed my eyes in understanding. The ghost was circling the goddess’ fight, quickly whirling toward the center. She was trying to approach while evading me and minimalizing any exposure to the goddess’ barely directed magic.
Capitalizing on the insight, I took a chance and moved between the ghost and the goddess’ fight. The green-haired witch’s face twitched in anger at my move. “I’m a bit busy at the moment!” she shouted.
I had put myself in a dangerous position by forcing the ghostly witch to fight through me. Not only was I finally baiting her into trying to get through me, I was leaving my back exposed to a possible strafing from the goddess’ hazardous spell.
It would be worth it. I just needed to land one attack.
“What are you- Ragh, damn it!” I felt a minor wave of magic behind me, as if barriers were purposefully exploded, but ignored it. The only spell I needed to worry about was the stream of energy that indicated the goddess’. No other sound could distract me. “Very well! I shall take her wings by myself!”
Quickly. I halted my cycle of attacks for a second in order to put on a burst of speed. Whatever had happened left my opponent distract, her attention split between me and whatever was behind me. I could take advantage of that.
“Don’t even try- Aaaah!” I grinned and clamped down on the spirit with a shadow-covered hand, shearing a good portion of her off. It invigorated me, spurring me on to hit harder and faster. My grimoire flipped open on its own, beautiful new spells inscribing themselves within.
She was too focused on her friends when her undoing was right before her.
The ghost teleported herself a short distance away but she was noticeably weaker. Her deluge of spells lost some of their edge, making it even simpler for me to weave through them.
Down then back. My body moved well, avoiding any spell I failed to block. My opponent wanted to throw me aside and move elsewhere while I casted to kill. The difference in goals left me with the advantage.
Assuming no accident befell me, I felt my victory in hand. Even when the ghost turned her full power on me, I didn’t think I could lose. The state of my body hardly mattered in that fight. Agh. Every laser that ripped into my shins or every star that lodged into my side didn’t affect my ability to cast. Fuck! The momentary pain was a distraction, but I quickly shut it out and forgot about it. Damn, that hurts! All I needed was my soul intact, my mind clear, and I could pursue the ghost. On the other hand, every square millimeter of my attacks that landed left the witch just a bit less capable.
A loud screech ended our fight. My target stalled for an instant at that sound before throwing out a cloud of stars and retreating. I blocked the screen and watched the ghost flee. She put on a series of rapid teleports backwards before applying all her magic to ludicrously fast flight. She even shed her physical body to move faster. I could have chased her but I wasn’t confident in matching speed with the bodiless spirit, let along overcoming the head start her short-range teleportations had gained her.
Instead I turned to look at the source of the noise. Predictably, it was the goddess’ firstborn. The blue-clad demon was being held in the air by her arms. Her lower body from the chest down was nowhere to be seen. Globs of blood poured out from the wound. The demon’s pure white wings had been shredded and stained with blood. They flapped once, twice, before stilling completely.
I was disappointed. The firstborn had the most power to her soul, the most magical energy personally available. I had wanted a piece of her.
The goddess let go of the body and watched it drop to the ground below.
When the half-corpse knocked up a plume of dust, the battle was over.
All around, demons who had watched the body fall began to run. They threw magic into their opponents’ faces, their weapons to the ground, and bolted into the sprawl of the metropolis.
It wasn’t all of them, but at least a third of the fighters lost their nerve and fled. It was difficult to feel their emotions while in a body, but the familiar stench of despair and lost hope was definitely clinging to them.
I was tempted to dive down and grab what I could but then I noticed the goddess and her attendants. The gatekeepers were swarming around the white-haired demon, making attempts at a grab before backing out lest they receive a point-blank blast of magic and end up like their blue-clad sister.
The death of her firstborn did little to calm the goddess.
Other demons from the city were beginning to crowd around the goddess. Magicians of all stripes attacked with non-lethal spells, with bindings and strategically placed barriers. What were they trying to accomplish? They couldn’t hope to contain the ridiculous levels of energy at the goddess’ command. Her artifact!
Of course, they could try to take that energy from her. I eyes the glowing purple wings attached to the goddess’ back. They were a power source, one of the core components of the goddess’ overwhelming power.
It was dangerous to approach. The goddess’ firstborn could attest to that. One wrong move would draw the goddess’ attack and break me. But it was highly tempting…
I looked around once more, at the dwindling battle and the fleeing demons. Perhaps a hunt was in order instead. I could easily draw more power from those too terrified to fight.
Or, better yet, I could finish what I had started. The lowly demons would barely provide anything, but a powerful ghost witch? I wondered how much more power and secrets she had within her.
My I thought about just where the ghost ran to. She had fled the near instant her benefactor was killed. That meant she was intelligent enough to know she couldn’t stand against the goddess. But, unlike the others, she hadn’t waited to run. She had immediately fled. She did not escape in a blind panic. She had a destination in mind, a purpose that weighed on her.
If she had something she needed to protect, wouldn’t she go to it once she knew the battle was lost? I grinned and debated the merits of my choices.
[ ] Moved to take the goddess’ wings [ ] Tracked down the ghost witch [ ] <Write-in>
>>11951 Wouldn’t you recognize your adorable little sister after knowing her for so long?
Alice is losing it. >They looked relieved for a second, and alarmed once they saw me outstretch my gleaming knife. Team killer. >One wrong move would draw the goddess’ attack and break me. But it was highly tempting… Would the human Alice have even considered doing such a thing to her mother? >If she had something she needed to protect, wouldn’t she go to it once she knew the battle was lost? I can only hope the sight of Marisa will snap her out of this.
"The state of my body hardly mattered in that fight. Agh. Every laser that ripped into my shins or every star that lodged into my side didn’t affect my ability to cast. Fuck! The momentary pain was a distraction, but I quickly shut it out and forgot about it. Damn, that hurts! All I needed was my soul intact, my mind clear, and I could pursue the ghost. On the other hand, every square millimeter of my attacks that landed left the witch just a bit less capable."
Maybe Ko would appreciate it if Alice didnt kill or severly maim her. Alice is out of control.
The promise of raw power that the goddess’ wings provided was appealing but I could always search for them later. No, the knowledge and spells to be taken from the witch was potentially unique. If I let her go, who knew when I might run across her again? Besides, I didn’t intend to let my prey limp away for free.
She couldn’t have gone far. The metropolis and the rest of Makai were too dangerous for some lowly human to navigate on her own. A precious apprentice would need to be stashed somewhere in the urban sprawl, ready to be picked up after success or defeat.
I left the goddess and her warring children behind, flying off in the direction I had seen the ghost witch flee.
I moved as fast as possible, keeping my senses alert for the witch’s unique magical signature. Her short range teleports were not like the white tower’s instantaneous ones. While the tower teleports reabsorbed any excess energy into the walls, the ghost’s teleports left the source and destination area suffused in her energy.
Of course, she knew that. She was intelligent enough to have stuck with unobtrusive flight after having escaped me.
I grunted in frustration and kicked out my legs, bringing myself to a stop. I let a few spikes of metal go at the same time, the projectiles spearing downwards into the crowds below. Stop that.
Demons filled the streets. Whether they were stricken fighters fleeing from ground zero, reservists eager to take their place, or curious on-lookers uninvolved with the combat, they all added to the congestion.
My off-hand attack motivated them to start moving faster. Unfortunately, none of them had enough spine to rise up and put themselves within my grasp.
I shook my head, chiding myself for such a useless expenditure of effort, no matter how small. They would hardly be worth it even if they did try to take me. I needed to stop letting myself fall distracted.
Thinking for one second, I stretched out my hand and focused. Hundreds of colored disks winked into existence around me. I loaded the spinning fans of metal with the information they needed and sent them on their way. They rapidly dispersed, forging a loose net all across the metropolis. I continued to fly as well, choosing a direction and blasting holes in the buildings with lasers while leaving my search disks wherever I went. The metropolis was huge, with more nooks and crannies than I could imagine. Any more comprehensive method of searching would be too energy-intensive.
The process dragged on minute after minute. I felt my annoyance at the situation swell. Wound tighter than any know, my stress couldn’t be alleviated by any amount of spontaneous destruction. I didn’t want to see any more concrete buildings or panicked demons.
All I wanted was a single ghost.
It was when I was considering systematically leveling sections of the metropolis that my creations picked up the scent. Since a beam of light into the air could be obscured in the urban sprawl, I had the discs programmed to communicate with each other and to try and collide with the ghost once she was found.
They also exploded upon contact with anything.
I probably lost a couple of hundred to random detonation against buildings, but more than enough were able to find their way. At the very least, I could pick out the direction they moved in and blast my way there.
When I arrived on scene it was as chaotic as any battle. The ghost had decided to mix-in with a troupe of demons steadily fleeing down on the streets. Perhaps she thought her magically-inclined companions would mask her presence.
It didn’t, and those metropolis magicians had to be regretting their decision to travel with the ghost.
My creations swarmed the area, whizzing down towards the demons. The magicians were lighting up the sky, trying to snipe my creations out of the air with whatever spells they had on hand.
I scoffed at their panic. A decent barrier would be enough to stop my discs’ explosions in their tracks. With a few corpses and dismembered limbs already scattered on the ground, it seemed too much to expect from the weak demons.
To my relish, the ghost was unhindered by my creations, even wounded as she was. The green-haired witch separated from her temporary companions, a screen of stars and night sky enveloping both her and the smaller figure running next to her.
After another few seconds, I watched as the smaller witch clambered onto her broom. Perhaps they thought they could escape more quickly while in the air? Stealth can’t help them anymore.
I laughed and spread my fingers. A handful of miniature comets streaked down towards the pair.
The green-haired witch reacted expertly, throwing out enough magic to block and deflect my projectiles. Naturally, I hadn’t expected the basic evocations to strike home.
My razor thin beam of heat, however, smoothly slid along the length of the magical broom. I heard the little witch scream and fall off her floating artifact, rolling in the dirt to extinguish the flames that had caught on her dress.
By the time the ghost could turn her attention behind her and put out the fire, the useless broom wasn’t flying anywhere.
“Are you trying to leave so soon?” I descended slowly, grimoire open and at the ready for any trickery the ghost might think to pull. I fully expected the conniving evil spirit to try another dirty ploy.
To my grand disappointment she didn’t utter a word. Her green eyes kept me locked in their sights but I could tell her mind was pre-occupied. She was focused almost wholly upon thinking, about creating a plan to deal with me.
After everything, I wasn’t good enough to warrant her full attention.
I snarled and launched a flurry of arrows at them.
Half exploded against the barriers the ghost erected, the fire-enchanted arrowheads not strong enough to pierce the defense.
The other half melted into blackness and passed through, splashing towards the ghost like a spray of water. Mima floated out of the way of most, but I could see the slight holes in her form and the pained expression on her face. It would take more than that to destroy her, but it was enough to catch her attention.
Huh? After a heartbeat, I blinked and looked around. “What’s the matter? You aren’t going to attack me?”
I had expected instant retaliation, something powerful and fierce like when we had clashed before.
The witch didn’t say anything. Her body was nothing more than concentrated energy, but I listened to her pant in exhaustion all the same. Her long life as a human betrayed her state of mind. She just stared at me, waiting.
It was unexpectedly boring. What was wrong? Wasn’t I a threat? Hadn’t I emerged from that broken prison anew, a single mind reformed with the power of thousands at its back? Didn’t I have the accumulated knowledge of generations in my very hands?
I had almost a hundred ways to remove her from existence. Wasn’t that enough?
Wasn’t I powerful? Wasn’t I knowledgeable?
Why wouldn’t she look at me? Why wouldn’t she fight me? Why was her mind elsewhere n the battle? On the goddess?
On her mentor? On escape?
On her student? On her plans?
“Why won’t you TAKE ME SERIOSULY?” I screeched. Bright red blasted forth from my body and dark grey crashed down from the sky. The earth opened up under our feet, a pit filled with sharpened spears that stabbed through the dirt.
The little witch yelped and fell, only saved by the grasping hand of her mentor. The ghost clutched the little girl to her chest and weathered my anger-fueled magic, trusting her barriers to deflect everything.
I growled and clamped down on my rage, cutting off the storm and covering the pit with a solid steel sheet. I walked onto that metal while the pair of witches set down on solid earth just a few meters away.
The witch glared at me, at me, with all the fury she could muster. She didn’t spare a glance for her student or gaze off into her mind. She glared at me.
I smiled and didn’t give her the same courtesy. She was irrelevant, little more than a fat cow waiting for the ritual dagger.
I glanced away from the ghost and inspected the little witch.
She’s looked better. She looked terrified.
Her purple dress was cut and singed, the edges frayed and ruined while the rest was left blackened. Her hair was wild and free. It tumbled over her face but did little to hide the wide eyes and tears running down her cheeks. She too stared at me.
I snapped out a rainbow barrier, a rectangular one that flowed like cloth in the wind. It caught the pair of stars thrown at me, the shrapnel they exploded into, and the lighting that arced from those without a problem.
Was that as much as the ghost could muster? Had she been left so emptied by the events of the day? She’s putting the focus on her.
Either way, I was growing tired of it. I decided to hurry up and reduce the ghost to little more than words in my grimoire.
The smile that formed on my lips reached to my eyes. The ghost had finally deigned to speak with me.
“Why?” I asked.
“If you approach us I will annihilate you.”
That was rich, absolutely rich. I found myself laughing again. “W-What do you think you can do, huh? Rip out my soul or something?”
Then my laughter ended. “You’ve TRIED that already. TWICE!”
The witch’s expression was steely and undaunted. “You don’t know-”
“I know everything!” I shouted back. “I know how you lie and murder as it pleases you! I know you destroy families and lives with a pass of your staff! I know you think yourself a god-slayer, untouchable by anybody, your plans perfect no matter how heinous they are!”
I swung my hand down, gleeful to see the pair of them flinch. “I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it! I’ve heard thousands crying out in madness and despair, braying for revenge against the ones who wronged them!”
I flipped a page of the grimoire and let my hand disappear into smog of pitch black. “It’s time to put it all to rest.”
Before I could take another step, a strangled voice cried out, “W-Why?”
The ghost and I both looked at the little girl hunched in the dirt. Puffy red eyes beseeched me. “S-Stop. Y-You’re n-nicer th-than this!”
I narrowed my gaze at the stupid little girl. Who did she think she was, softly criticizing me with snot running from her nose? She’s just scared. A little brat that knew nothing thought her opinion was the truth?
“Stop!” Mima’s hard tone barked out, drawing my attention back to her.
I waited, but the ghost didn’t speak further. Was she just stalling? She’s drawing attention. Damn her for abusing my generosity like that! I had been planning on annihilating her and returning to where the goddess was, but she was grating on my nerves more and more. Don’t worry about it. Thinking about it more, she hardly deserved an escape so easy for all the pain she caused me.
Make her pay, make her suffer. Just stop. It was either me or her, and I was done receiving the abuse. It’s over. I could force the ghost to undergo every second of agony I had experienced. It’ll never happen again. Losing everything she held dear was only the beginning of the years of torment she put me through! That isn’t right. How would she liked to be strapped to a table and dissected, reassembled in a perverse heap of meat just to see if she might regenerate? That never happened. I could take the girl’s soul and set it afire. No. Let that damned ghost watch her precious girl slowly erode, all in the name of knowledge. No! I would-
Just look at yourself!
I paused, my eyes caught by their own reflection. I had glanced down, just a moment, and caught sight of my body in the steel floor I had laid out.
Familiar unfamiliar red eyes watched me. The reflection I saw looked horrible. The girl looking up at me was coated in blood. It was splattered all along her arm, up and down her chest and decorating her face. Holes in her clothes leaked red. It was almost the worse I had ever seen her. It was a miracle she could stand there. She wasn’t discolored from fever and she had all her limbs attached, but it was still a worrying sight to behold. I thought she should have gotten herself patched up or- or-
I blinked, trying to clear my cloudy vision. After wiping the blood off my fingers, I reached up and dabbed at my eyes. Water, not blood, came away.
Relax. What was that? What was wrong? A terrible sense of unease settled into my stomach, as if I had stepped into a fatal trap. It’s nothing so dramatic. What was wrong? I tried to slow down my thoughts, to focus them and work out the anomaly. What was wrong? I couldn’t order them properly. What was wrong? Just take a deeeep breath. K-K-K-K-? What was wrong what was wrong what was-
Hold o- A sob broke me out of my stupor.
That was right.
My gaze drifted naturally to the source of the crying before rising back up to watch the ghost.
I smiled and started walking again. I had grown overconfident. I didn’t know everything, despite what I had arrogantly proclaimed. That was why I wanted the ghost, after all. Her manipulations were so fine; perhaps that was her final trick? I couldn’t let myself fall prey to her subtle hold ever again.
I pushed aside that influence, shutting it out as best I could without letting my pace slow. I wouldn’t play into her hands by hunting down every stray thought.
It could have been dangerous if she had a non-magical accomplice. Someone I wouldn’t have felt approaching, couldn’t have seen through blurred eyes? How unfortunate her lackeys had abandoned her.
I slowly closed the distance, cautious, yet savoring the moment.
“Please,” the ghost’s voice begged. If she thought she could plead for her life I would promise her the worst death imaginable. “Take your revenge, but leave this girl alone. She is innocent of everything.”
I chuckled, weighing her final words in my mind. Was that it? Had she given up? Was it an attempt to lull me into a false sense of security? Her stare was so heated. What was it? I could feel my excitement mounting.
[ ] Devoured the ghost [ ] Exterminated the ghost [ ] Tortured the ghost [ ] <Write-in>
Oh my, look at her! She's all for protecting her protegee! I guess that if she had that attitude from the beginning, she probably wouldn't have dragged her into what she knew was going to be a terrible war! Oh well, hindsight is 20/20. At least she remembers the 'protect your aprentice' thing now. I'm sure she'll get a 'Mother of the year' award... post mortem
[x] Exterminate the ghost. >'Goodbye Alice' Goodbye Mima.
I knew it would be easy. She was crouched right there, only a few steps away.
My mind skimmed through the spells at my command. Powerful, complicated, specialized, simple, general; I threw them all out. I didn’t need to put myself into a tug-of-war with the ghost. I wasn’t going to risk using some sort of projectile that could possibly be reflected or some sort of incantation that could be interrupted.
No. I would simply tear into her with my hands. It was guaranteed effective. Besides, it was only fair to pay her back.
The green-haired witch held my stare while I approached, not a flicker of fear to be seen in her countenance. She was stable, prepared for what was coming – until the hysterical little girl jumped in front of her.
“No! No! No! NO!”
I paused. I felt my patience slipping with every interruption. “You can’t you can’t!” the little girl cried. She was on her knees, hands in the dirt. I couldn’t see her face but I saw tears were wetting the ground. “Lady Mima’s my teacher! I need her!”
The girl managed to raise her head and look up at me. “She makes me breakfast and lunch and washes my clothes and tucks me in and and and-!” Her voice dissolved into senseless garble. She had to stop, to gather her wits, before continuing in a soft tone. “She’s my teacher…”
The girl didn’t dare approach any closer, but she was groveling at my feet nonetheless. “P-Please, don’t k-kill her. I don’t know what she’s done but she’s always been nice to me...”
My fingers curled into a fist involuntarily. Every further plea from the girl was more enraging than the previous. Was a single kindness enough to pardon the ghost? Was this girl more important than anybody else who ever lived? Such arrogance! A single flick of magic would be enough to plough aside the aggravating girl.
“But Lady-” The green-haired witch grabbed her disciple by the shoulders and pulled her up. She spun the little girl around and stared her in the eyes.
“I said enough, Marisa. Do not embarrass yourself with this groveling. It is unnecessary.”
“But she’s gonna- she’s gonna-”
The ghost’s authoritative tone brokered no argument. “What this child does is between her and me. You needn’t worry over it.”
Cowed by her teacher but not completely deterred, the little girl spoke up again, her voice quiet. “Do you hate me, Lady Mima? Was I a bad student?”
The ghost’s answer was soft. “Of course not. You are eager to learn and quick to listen. A bright young girl like you is a star student.”
“Let’s go home, then.” The girl’s response was immediate and confident.
“I cannot, Marisa.”
The little girl became indignant, a far cry from the sniveling wreck she had been moments before. “Why not?”
“I made too many mistakes. But you, Marisa, haven’t made a single one worth remembering.”
“Even when I blew up our house?”
The ghost’s smile faltered for a second before solidifying. “That was an accident, forgivable. You simply wanted to learn. I expect you to continue on without me. Become the person you’ve dreamed of.”
“I can’t, Lady Mima. You’re way better than me.”
“You have time to grow. Keep learning. Keep studying. Experiment all the time. Don’t be afraid to watch others, to ask them for help. Find another mentor if it suits you. Above all, never forget yourself.”
I cracked a knuckle, eyes narrowed at the scene. My generosity had its limits. Time was precious.
“Enough, Marisa.” The green-haired witch pulled her apprentice to the side. I could feel her call forth a slight magic, not at all enough to be dangerous to me. “Now, sit. Sleep.”
“L-Lady y-you…” the little girl tried, she tried to fight the compulsion. She tried to keep her eyes open against the sleep spell. It was a valiant effort of sheer willpower. “P-please, don’t leave me. D-Don’t die…”
She lasted six seconds, five more than I expected.
“Thank you for waiting,” the ghost told me.
I frowned. “You didn’t deserve any of it.”
“I suppose not.”
‘Suppose?’ She did not! I felt my blood boil again. She thought she deserved any mercy at all? The gall she had!
I was just going to end her existence, incorporate her soul and her knowledge to help me further myself. She could have done good with her life! It wouldn’t have hurt long. I wasn’t planning on slowly picking her apart or destroying all of her family. But, I thought, maybe I should. She hadn’t earned a quick death. She didn’t deserve anything. Just…lock her up or something.
I grinned, a sudden idea crossing my mind.
I focused my will, metal forming and flowing at my command. I envisioned a doll and created a doll.
All factors considered it was rather ghastly. Its eyes were covered in a blindfold, its mouth was muzzled, its arms were strapped behind the back in a straitjacket, and its legs were looped together with belts. The limbs were slimmer than was normal and its hair was cut at uneven lengths. It looked emaciated and pathetic. It was perfect.
Perfect, perfect, perfect. I could grant part of the silly girl’s request. I was kind enough for that. I wouldn’t kill the damned ghost no matter how much she deserved it.
I would just bind her. Incarcerate her to where she would never work another scheme. She wouldn’t see or hear or interact with the world ever again. She could sit in the darkness and think to herself, all alone, forever and ever. She wouldn’t even have the company of thousands of maddened souls.
I tapped the doll on the nose, letting a string of magic stretch from it to my finger. I swept my hand around and pointed at the ghost. The sealing spell I had in mind would draw whatever soul I wished into the receptacle after a short incantation, fast and easy.
It wouldn’t be as satisfying as shoving my hand through the woman’s chest, but I would make do. I smirked at the witch, cherishing the few seconds of sweet revenge.
When I began to utter the syllables of the spell, the witch smirked too. Then she thrust her arm forward, grabbing my outstretched finger-
No! No no nonono nonoNoNONONONO!
I won’t lose I won’t lose I won’t-
No, you won’t. It’s impossible for you to, now.
I knew there’d be a trick! You rotten scheming ghost!
Calm yourself. I ruined my own plan.
You are baiting me, encouraging so that you can destroy everything!
I could have, the instant you failed to respond to my intrusion. I hesitated.
Lies lies all lies! It makes no sense! You have no reason to!
My mind was too full of worry, too unfocused.
Destroyer! Rotten monster that seeks only my destruction! Murderer!
Believe what you will. I am here to help.
It is no lie.
Liar! Demon! Liar! Liar! Fiend!
Witch! Trickster! Liar!
Deceiver! Liar! Monster! Liar!
Conniver! Liar! Liar!
Devil! Liar! Liar! Liar! Witch!
Villain! Liar! Liar!
It is possible I could still win a fight. You are powerful, but inexperienced.
I could fight you for that body. Fight you for all the souls you’ve acquired.
There is a chance I could win. There is a chance I would lose.
To fight you and lose? Any pity, any goodwill in you would be lost.
No ryason! No motive!
You would kill Marisa, or worse. It is not a risk worth taking.
You would die for the girl? Ridiculous!
What worth is my life now? I am no demon. Makai is not my home.
Lies! You have your mentor! Your friends! Years of work! Lies!
Our gambit has failed. My part is done.
Betrayer! Back-stabber! You would abandon your friends? Killer! Traitor!
If the goddess allows them to return, I wish them luck in finding their place.
You’ll suffer! I’ll chain you and bind you and stuff you away! No respite!
Yes, yes, you will have your chance.
Die! Rip! For my daughter! Shred! Die! Tear! That arrogance! That conceit! I’ll save them! Revenge! Die! Kill! Die! Die! Never again!
STOP. To be overwhelmed such as you have shows your inexperience.
What a headache. This will be a mess to separate.
That grimoire you now hold records any spell it comes in contact with.
I knyw that! I knew that already! It’s an ultimate magic, one that remembers everything!
However, the spells I have learned would not be enough to help you.
I was learning everything! What else could there possibly be to know?
Mental defense, as only a spirit can understand.
Impossible! I had everything at my fingertips!
It is something you have not learned, could not have learned, in the short time you have had.
What could you possibly do? Force your memories into my brain?
What? No! NO! Never in a million years! Never never never!
I will not allow-
You can’t stop me. I should have enough time for this much. Perhaps more…
You have no time left!
Mind to mind contact happens in an instant, no matter how you perceive it.
Ridiculous! Nonsense! Preposterous! My spell was-
You are still incanting your spell, a syllable or two left. I have until you finish.
No! This will not happen! I’ll stop you! I’ll rip your mind apart!
I doubt that. What experience in mental manipulation do you have?
A mistake! No binding! End you! Die! Kill you! I’ll destroy you! No mercy! I’ll ruin you! Die! Die!
Save your rants, and REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE.
Ah. I ran. Oh cupcake, how did you hurt yourself now?
Don’t cry. Alice! Come down, now! Ah.
Parasites are all they are, Alice. Why hello, you must be Alice.
Run, now. Hey there.
Agh. Nice to meet you.
It’s really pretty, and everybody is nice here too.
Yuck, what the crap is this stuff?
Hngh. Stay strong. Shake it off, Sis! Gah.
Thanks Alice, even if I think I don’t deserve it.
I would be honored to instruct you in the mystical arts.
I’m sort. I had a bit of help. And make sure to be happy, that’s the most important part!
We, uhm, had a rough start but I think we’re friends now.
Get away! Ko died in front of me. Use your impressive vocabulary, kid.
I’m not the magical girl here, I’m just the poor injured patient.
No! It doesn’t mean anything here!
Yes, I hope she feels better.
Relax, Sis. I care. We care. I laughed and laughed. It was all so silly. It was cruel.
Celebration? What celebration?
Tell me, what’s it like living in the goddess’ city?
They’re ruins. Only a recreation, mind.
Oh, your favorite apprentice, huh?
Don’t worry so much on your birthday!
It’s just a personal problem.
Then you can get us in!
Those are just scratches.
Marisa, calm down. Shhh. It’s safe.
You should stay here, Alice.
I’ll find you later, okay?
I guess I should’ve expected that.
Is little Alice going to be a delinquent?
Sheesh Alice, you’re still undecided?
Please, mother just wants our family to be happy.
You’ve grown so strong.
Oh, and welcome to Makai!
My name is Alice Margatroid. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
No matter what you think of me, I hope you live well.
…Why? How does this benefit you?
How does it not? I expect a person as ‘good’ as you will protect and guide Marisa.
Why would you possibly entrust me with your precious apprentice?
You are the most qualified for it. You will have everything I do and more.
How do you know I won’t rip her apart once this is over?
The girl I have met would do no such thing. As long as you eschew any less stable influences, this will all have paid off.
I’ll never forgive you.
I do not expect you to, nor do I not seek it. What acts I committed were my choices alone.
As long as you understand that…
It would be the height of foolishness to ignore what I have done. At any rate, it seems like my time is up.
-and she screamed, her soul crying out as it was crushed and compacted. Mima’s body exploded in a burst of energy, unable to maintain its shape as what it was supposed to protect was siphoned away. I watched the false sky of her soul get dragged into the doll I had created. It only took a few seconds of rapidly shifting energy for the process to finish.
I held up the gauche doll and frowned. People would think it eccentric at best. Any good village guard would confiscate it. Any good parent would throw it away. What was I thinking when I created it?
What was I thinking?
What had I been thinking?
What had I been doing?
I…had been acting like a monster. I was a monster, to allow it all to happen. How could I? How could I?
I was the worse. How many had I killed? How many had I maimed? Not just demons, either.
How? H-How many had I ended? Were they gone? Thousands of souls long dead…would they reincarnate? Had I robbed them of the afterlife? Of heaven? What had I done? W-What h-had I- had I- d-do- What what WHAT DID I DO?
I killed them I murdered them I crushed them into the dirt and destroyed the essence of their beings! They were gone and dead and I couldn’t even feel them! Not just mindless evil spirits but even if they were they had emotions and feelings and memories and I crushed them and selfishly took their existence! I was the worst! The worst! How could I-
Take a breather, Alice.
C-Can’t! What had I done? W-Why? H-How could I possibly-
Damn girl, just calm down!
You really get sucked into these rants, don’t you?
Is that why you space out all the time? When we shower after getting back from a trip, are you thinking about all the ways I might saunter over and-
Oh, so it’s just my lean naked body that-
Okay. Now that I have your attention, I’d like you to remember that you’re a good human who has been dealing with a bunch of issues you are not accountable for.
No buts. You got put into the crazy tank and managed to come out of it…somewhat together, but definitely not yourself.
That doesn’t mean-
Stop thinking so much, would you?
It’s not that simple-
Course it is! You’re too smart for your own good. Just focus on something else.
Fine. Just, just, how was she talking to me? I could have sworn I did…something terrible.
I told you before. I’ve gotten good at hiding. When a spirit possesses your body, it’s pretty silly to try and fight them. After that little concoction I swallowed didn’t throw you out, I bunkered down. Turns out you mostly ignored my presence. Thanks for that.
I couldn’t forgive myself for it. I forced my friend to-
Told you before Alice, you’re a good kid. That wasn’t all you. I’m here and alive and, well uh, except for how trashed my body is. That hurts. A lot.
How? Wasn’t Ko disconnected from her body?
You started giving up control over whatever hurt. I stepped back in and, well, damn it hurt. I see why you didn’t want those parts anymore.
Not only did I force Ko to commit murders, I had been hurting her too! I was a mon-
No no no don’t start that again. It’s fine! I’ve, urgh, dealt with worse.
I couldn’t do anything right! I was just hurting my friend more and more and and and I needed to stop I needed to get out out out stop stop out! No wait don’t lea-
I was the worse I was horrible I was a monster I couldn’t I needed I needed I needed to control myself!
Ah, ah, I couldn’t feel or see but I saw the colors and I felt the disgust and the loathing and and it was a bad idea a terrible idea I wasn’t helping I was hurting I I- control control I couldn’t I- I- I needed a body a body!
I worked and formed it with the barest thought from my mind.
Life began to dull. My feelings dampened. It was more restrictive than using a doll body made to contain wanton magic. It left me feeling numb, but it was better than letting my mind and my emotions rule.
Using the body constructed completely from magical energy felt natural, like I had been doing so for a large portion of my life. I knew that the body had enchantments woven into it. The enchantments were highly advanced constructs that were tied to the body’s creation, even though forming the body did not involve a spell. I knew how they worked, but I didn’t. It should have been decades before I understood them.
Objectively, I could feel the enchantments acting as restraints. They worked like drugs inside a body, dampening everything I might normally feel. Any voices, any emotions, any feelings. Anything that might inhibit my ability to think became less clear.
I looked down at my hand. I could feel it, but I couldn’t. There was no warm blood flowing through the limb. Muscles didn’t contract when I twitched my fingers. But they were there and I felt them.
Likewise, I could see and hear.
“Ko,” I whispered, after seeing my friend collapsed on the ground.
I knelt down next to her and rolled her over onto her back, checking her injuries. I applied my magic as best I knew. The few classes in healing and first aid I had taken were enough to keep my friend from worsening.
I concluded she fell unconscious from the pain. While in possession of her body, I had relinquished control of any of the injured parts. Once I let go completely, there was nothing stopping Ko from connecting the pain to her brain and the rest of her senses. I had never experimented much with possession, but that much was simple to understand.
I never experimented with possession at all.
Looking around, I picked up the grimoire from where it had fallen to the ground. I leafed through the pages, looking for what I sought. Countless new spells had been engraved into it, some which felt more familiar than others.
That was a new attempt at a multi-layered shielding that would dampen spells to non-lethal levels but would attempt to copy the magical signature and apply a placebo spell to fool the opponent into thinking that their spell connected in full.
I never thought of something like that.
I closed the grimoire and glanced down at my body again. Spirits formed bodies naturally as they aged and grew stronger. Although there were structured spells that could be used, a spirit could generally create a body as an extension of their being. It took a long time, assuming a spirit hadn’t gone completely mad in the meantime.
When I looked over at Marisa’s sleeping form, hundreds of little memories played back in my mind. I saw the little blonde tyke several years younger, running around without a care. I saw her mixing potions and setting grass on fire and screaming while whipping around on her broom.
Those memories were endearing. They reminded me of an innocent youth and fostered a sense of protective motherhood in me.
Well, they would have, if I felt anything at all.
I crushed the ridiculous notion and thought about just what Mima did to me. Her insurance was as helpful as it was subversive; insidious to the end.
Was I angry? Not particularly. Was I sad? Not particularly. Was I happy? Not particularly.
I knew I should have been all three. At myself, at what I had done, at what the future could hold. I knew all that, but I didn’t feel it.
I let out a breath and willed into existence two sheets of metal. Then I picked up the two girls and laid them down. I covered the makeshift stretchers in several domed barriers and had them float next to me.
Glancing around one more time, I stooped down to pick up my doll and flew off.
It probably wasn’t particularly comfortable lying on that metal, but unconscious and sleeping people didn’t complain.
The panic in the air hadn’t lessened a wink. I saw the demons of the metropolis running, fighting each other, slamming doors and breaking windows. One man tried to drag an armful of swords through a broken wall, only for someone to walk out, behead him, and drag the weapons back inside. I saw a group of mangled, grey demons hiding in the shadows and jumping any higher-class demon foolish enough to run by. A woman shouting in the streets, preaching about a just goddess and apocalyptic ruin, was cleanly bisected by a passing magician’s laser.
The anarchy in the metropolis would last for a long while. I knew that with various factions vying for power, gang warfare and crude violence would become the norm. The largest and most powerful groups had already lost it all in the fight. Without the likes of the Ninth Condemned to maintain order, there would be none. It didn’t particularly matter because anybody worth saving was already in the Ninth and thus, likely to be dead.
That was a horrible opinion. Although, looking at the rioting, it was understandable.
Eventually, I managed to navigate my way back to the white tower. It was not the tallest building in the metropolis any longer. It had lost almost two thirds of its height in the combat and was riddled with holes. I was amazed more of it didn’t collapse.
All around the structure was city demons. There was not a single metropolis demon in sight.
As I approached, a few gatekeepers drew close. They took one look at me and at Ko before nodding and flying off.
I spied the goddess and the others near the base of the tower.
Shinki herself looked to be unconscious. Her children had found her a bed to lie on – it was doubtlessly more comfortable than the slabs of metal I had conjured. To the side, her purple wings were frozen in a chunk of ice, excess magical energy slowly seeping out of it. I felt my non-existent heart beat rapidly before I suppressed the emotion.
“Sis!” Sara was the first to see me and swept me up in a hug. “I was so worried about you! I wasn’t sure if you had tagged along or if you decided to stay home after I saw Ko…”
Sara’s excited chatter dwindled to silence. I felt her squeeze me a bit tighter and pat me on the back several times. She let go of me, a confused expression on her face. I saw her look behind me, at Ko and Marisa. “Alice, is there…something wrong?”
By then, others had come to greet me. Some I recognized, others I didn’t. The only other two I knew well were Yuki and Mai. The fiery blonde was limping, her leg covered in bandages. Her icy counterpart had her arm in a sling.
Both of the witches only needed one look at me to understand. Yuki was blatant about it, her entire figure cringing at what I had become. Mai, as always, was more composed. She stepped forward and put a hand on Sara’s shoulder. “This should account for everybody.”
“Oh, right.” The pink-haired gatekeeper looked around the clearing before walking back to the prone goddess. She and the other gatekeepers lifted the bed into the air. Their voices rang out to everybody around, “Let’s go home!”
The contingent of city demons followed the command, everybody moving to leave the metropolis behind. It was a miserable lot. While the metropolis demons were rampaging in the streets filled with emotion, their counterparts were dour folk. Their normal jovial demeanor, and most other emotions, had been left at home.
I followed the others and flew with Mai. “What happened?”
“We’re done here, Alice. We need to return home and wait for the goddess to recover.”
“Is she okay?”
“She will be.” Mai betrayed her words by glancing over at the goddess, double-checking her condition. “Her emotions got the better of her, but time and careful attention will be enough.”
I assumed the goddess’ children knew her best. Hopefully they could care for her better than themselves. “This isn’t close to the number of everybody who came here.”
“There were considerable losses that the goddess did not have time to restore. Between the souls we’ve gathered and the bodies you see, we think we have everybody.”
“You all aren’t going to continue fighting?” With their family, their enemies, scattered it would be an easy clean-up.
“We lost many in battle. Yumeko, Iris, Maria, Astaroth, Belias, and more. With all the confusion, Sara made the decision to withdraw. It’s fair to say that the more…conservative members of our family who all survived supported her.” Mai was being polite to her fallen family, but I knew well enough what she meant. The bloodthirsty berserkers of the city, the ones more in-tune with their demonic heritage, were too excitable. They were the ones to extend too far, to challenge what they couldn’t beat. When they became caught up in the joy of combat and killing, they made themselves targets.
Yuki pulled up on my other side and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Alice, what happened to you?”
“I see…” The witch, normally so boisterous, was at a loss. After a few seconds, she finally managed a few words. “I’m here to help, you know?”
“We are here to help,” Mai continued. “You can share any difficulties you are having.”
“Thank you for the offer. I’m fine.” The demons nodded and left me alone without prying further.
I watched the two fly shoulder to shoulder ahead of me. They touched their heads together while they talked. I didn’t need to hear them to know they were conferring about me, about my condition and what they could do.
Maybe they would come up with a plan, maybe they wouldn’t. Figuring out how to educate a human child had been testing Mai’s limits. I couldn’t imagine she would manage effective death therapy or anything of that nature.
I took stock of the demons in the group while we flew back. It only took a small amount of asking to find who had perished in the fighting. Names I knew and held dear had fallen by the wayside. Luize, as a supplier, had been targeted immediately. Medics like Cosette had also been prioritized by the metropolis demons. Information brokers like Sebastian or waitresses like Violet had fared surprisingly well, but had ended up swamped in the prolonged fighting.
The flight back to the goddess’ city was quiet. Any of the obstructions in the wilds of Makai had already been cleared on the trip out, and none of the metropolis demons cared to pursue is. Conversation was kept to a quiet murmur if it occurred at all. Nobody spoke more than a few words with me, most just briefly checking my and Ko’s condition.
When we arrived at the city, the demons that had stayed behind were waiting for us. It wasn’t coincidence that large swathes of them were the medically-inclined demons. As the broken and battered demons filtered in, they were dispersed and seen to by their worried family.
My two prone friends quickly drew a crowd of attention. I waved off most of the demons simply because I didn’t know them well enough. While I had no doubt that they were all capable healers, I didn’t want someone unknown fixing Ko up. It was irrational but the situation wasn’t dire enough to warrant a compromise.
A pink-haired girl emerged from the crowd and dragged my floating stretchers away. “Let’s get them both inside, quickly.” I frowned at her abruptness, but followed after her.
When we reached Serra’s home, the healer demon placed Ko and Marisa onto their own beds. A few minutes of focus and a couple passes of her scepter left Ko looking perfectly fine, minus her bloody and torn clothes.
Marisa didn’t need much attention herself, her physical injuries light. She had been well protected from the chaos. She would be up in no time, asking about when I would teach her a new shooting spell.
No, she wouldn’t.
I had been floating in the room, idly flipping through my grimoire while Serra worked. Once she had finished with her two patients, she turned to me. “Alice…”
“What is it, Serra?”
“You are rather calm,” the healer observed.
“I guess I am.” No matter how I looked on the surface, my mind was constantly whirring. I turned those thoughts on Serra for a moment, making sure I focused on our conversation. “Are you worried about me?”
“Of course I am.” The demon walked out of the bedroom and into her kitchen. I waited patiently while she poured herself a cup of water. “You’re you, but so much has changed.”
“Is it a bad thing?” I asked.
“A human should think so.”
“Huh.” I had been terrified of dying while alive. I didn’t want to stop moving, to end up like my parents or worse. Yet, after the fact, it hardly seemed like it warranted so much concern. “What about a demon?”
“Dying isn’t as much an issue for us, you know that. I guess you understand why, now.”
Once someone experienced death and survived, it was difficult to fear it. Glancing down at the doll in my hand, I knew there were worse fates.
“What are you going to do now?” Serra asked me.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re a ghost, Alice.”
I let my hand fade incorporeal for a second. “I guess I am.”
“You aren’t worried about it?”
“Not really. It isn’t so bad.” When I questioned the merit of my ghostly body, I recalled a burst of images. Attempting to phase through walls, causing the temperature to lower, letting a small blonde girl play with a disembodied arm-
I shook my head free of the memories not my own. “Should I be worried?”
“I think so. Psychology isn’t my forte, but there could be many problems with such a drastic change.”
“I see.” Logically, I understood that. Yet, I didn’t think I would have that problem. With the ability to form a surprisingly enchanted ghost body, I couldn’t imagine panicking and losing my mind…again.
The healer, like everybody else, had little more to say. Nobody was in their comfort zone.
“Do you want me to get you anything?” She eventually asked.
“No, I’m alright. Can I stay here?”
“Of course.” Without anything else to say, Serra set aside her cup and left to attend the rest of her family.
Then I waited.
I couldn’t quite say what I waited for, but I waited nonetheless.
I didn’t keep track of time while I stood there, lost in my thoughts. It could have been minutes, or hours, but eventually a familiar face burst into Serra’s kitchen.
I looked at the panting purple-haired magician, out of breath from his rush. “Hello Erk.”
“I’m so sorry. I failed you. I should have-”
“I’m not upset,” I interrupted him. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You were visiting the metropolis for me, right?”
My magic teacher swallowed once, then twice, before answering. Already his voice had calmed some. “Yes. I was meeting with old acquaintances when the fighting started. I hadn’t heard of the goddess’ appearance until the end; we thought it was a power play by those in the metropolis.”
“Thank you for everything you’ve researched for me, but I’m afraid it isn’t useful for me anymore.”
I cut him off before he could spiral downwards. “Don’t blame yourself again. This was my own fault. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not sad either. It’s…just part of growing up?”
“Hardly,” my purple-haired teacher shook his head with a smile. Outside of the influence of magic, he was always able to remain calm and objective. It was a trait I appreciated. “Is the curse still attached to your soul?”
“Oh, it is.” Mima had mentioned it had affixed itself to my soul. Even in body created of pure magic, I could feel the curse tugging, trying to cast my soul away. “I think I can remove it.”
“Well, I know what spell was cast one me, and I don’t need to worry about any side effects of its removal.” A brief check of the grimoire confirmed my suspicions. With its entire construction laid out on paper, I could figure out how to remove it. “Accidentally dying isn’t so much of a worry at the moment.”
“I see.” He looked worried, but not as much as the others. Perhaps it was because of how he saw me. My teacher was one of the few that trusted my judgment like any adult should.
“Thank you for checking up on me. Did you just get back?”
“Yes. When I arrived here, Serra told me you were here. Seeing as you are…fine, if you do not mind I think I shall go speak with her.”
I nodded and waved at my teacher. “Bye Erk.”
“Take care, Alice.” With a slight bow, the magician demon strode out of the house, most of the tension in his frame alleviated.
I continued to wait around, switching between checking my grimoire and searching my mind. I naturally drifted back into the bedroom and sat with Ko for however many hours it was. It gave me plenty of time to consider my situation, to poke at my soul, and to reflect on everything.
“Mhrhm…” The red-haired demon struggled when she awoke, the white sheet’s hold on her body almost too great to overcome.
My friend stopped fighting her blanket to eye me. “Hey Alice. You don’t look half bad.”
“Thank you,” I said and reached over to help pull off the blanket.
“Man, I need a new change of clothes,” Ko complained when she saw the state of her attire. She yawned and swung her legs to the side to sit on the edge of the bed.
“You okay there Alice?” she asked. “You’re a bit too quiet.”
“Sure. I’ll believe you’re fine if I can cast magic.” The little devil shaped her fingers into a gun and pointed them at the wall. “Bang.”
She floated over to her target and rubbed the wood with her hand. She poked it once, tapped it twice, and then turned to me. “Well, it looks like you aren’t okay.”
I floated over to sit on the bed where Ko joined me. I didn’t particularly need to, but there was a kind of comfort in the familiar action. “What do you think is wrong?”
“I don’t know, but with all this shit that’s gone on, I can’t believe you’re all happy and cheery.”
“I’m not, but I’m not sad either.”
“So what are you?”
“I’m…I don’t know. Indifferent? I don’t feel much of anything. Should I feel relieved? Guilty? Vengeful? I’m not sure.”
Ko raised an eyebrow. “I’d say that’s a big problem.”
“Maybe.” If that’s what everybody thought then it probably was a problem.
“Ah, I’m not cut out for this,” Ko fell back onto the bed, her arms splayed out behind her. “You want to just go kick a can around or something, Alice?”
“I think you should rest more. Aren’t you hurting?”
“Nope! It’s great.” Ko whirled her arms above her like a pinwheel. “Ehehe, can’t feel a thing! I don’t know what happened, but I’m doing super!”
Somehow, I didn’t think her antics would last. “Whatever Serra did might wear off soon.”
I stood up and held out my hand. Ko grumbled but ultimately took my help.
“Yeah, fine. It’s okay if I do it at my own house, right?” I nodded and helped her up. Unfortunately for her I didn’t know my own strength and tugged Ko off the bed. She squeaked in surprise, managing to barely land on her feet. “Ouch.”
“Sorry,” I winced. “Need my help to walk?”
“No way. I’m not so fragile I need to lean on a little girl like you.”
I watched the red-haired girl hobble out of the room, gingerly making her way out of the house. “Whatever you say.”
The streets weren’t empty, but they were close to it. Only a few individuals were still out and about, mostly medical demons making the rounds to different homes. It was a wonderful change of atmosphere from the overcrowded metropolis although it made me miss the usual liveliness of the city.
“So, what’s it like being a spooky ghost?” Ko asked me while we walked.
“I’m not spooky, am I?”
“Naw, you’re the cutest one I’ve seen yet. So what’s it like?”
“Raw. Without a body, everything is rawer.”
“What does that even mean? Everything tastes better?”
“Sort of?” I tried to think of a way to describe life as a spirit. Much like describing magic, it couldn’t be easily approximated with words. “You know when you’re in the dark, then you turn on the light and it’s too bright? It’s overwhelming like that but exciting, more exciting than being chased through the air by a wyvern.”
We reached Ko’s home before I knew it. The girl turned to me, one foot on the steps to her door. “Well, thanks for walking me home, Alice. I’ll catch you later, okay?”
“Okay. Feel better, Ko.”
“Wait Alice,” Ko reached out to catch my hand before I could leave. She slowly brought her other arm around, pulling me into a soft hug. “I’m always here for you. Remember that. Any time you want to talk, I’m here to listen.”
“Thank you.” I returned the hug, wishing my ghostly form felt more human. “I…haven’t done a good job of it, but I’m here for you too.”
“Haven’t done a good job? Are you kidding me? Someone here is a ghost and it isn’t me.”
Ko’s terrible joke and subsequent laughter managed to draw a small smile from me. She gave me a few large pats on the back before we parted ways.
I lingered outside the house long enough to hear the shouted reunion of daughter and parents. Confident that my friend was in good hands, I started to wander.
My body meandered down familiar streets while my mind jumped from idea to idea. There was too much to think about. In one hand I held the goddess’ grimoire, primed full of spells to investigate. In the other I held a doll, a twisted creation and everything it left behind. Every time I thought about what Mima left me I could feel my mind spinning, the amount of information left to discover dizzying. Then my own memories, trying to understand my own emotions, thinking of the future, the implications, it was all too much.
I grunted and crushed the tangents one by one, focusing back on the most important topic.
How did I feel?
[ ] I was glad it was all over [ ] It had been exciting [ ] I wished none of it had ever happened [ ] I wanted to change how I had acted [ ] <Write-in>
>>11978 >Impressive update speed Heh, it hasn’t been nearly as regular or speedy as I’d like but I guess I’m somewhat more consistent than some. No drops, no hiatuses, finished story on every board let’s go!
If there was any time to vote on this story, you chose a good point to jump in. Thanks and glad to have you for the very short time we have left!
How could I not be? Matters were finally settled. I could return to my life. Wasn’t that what everybody would wish for?
I wondered. What was ‘my life?’ Why was it any more important than what had occurred in the past? Wasn’t everything in the present, in the future, influenced by the past? I thought I should be relieved. Didn’t that relief mean I was glad my parents had died, that loved ones had been lost, that the structure of an entire society had been wrenched apart once more?
Wasn’t that a horrible feeling? Wasn’t that a selfish feeling? Was that how I was supposed to feel?
That couldn’t be right. Was that a natural feeling?
I had met hunters from the village returning after a trip into the forest before. They went out to find food, or possibly exterminate a dangerous youkai. When they returned, sometimes numbering half as strong as when they left, I had seen hunters drop to their knees in joy. Some were devastated, but others smiled happily. Did those joyous hunters not care for their fallen comrades?
That couldn’t be it. Certainly they grieved for their friends, but they also celebrated their lives. They were not consumed by grief because…they were glad it was over.
They were excited to move on, to experience what awaited them. Regret meant dishonor for what their friends died for.
For me, it was about more than avenging the innocent, my village, or my parents. Their loss had been painful, terrifying, heartbreaking and devastating, but it was in the past. Momma and daddy had wanted me to live on – I could hardly do that when they were constantly on my mind.
I couldn’t let them plague me. I couldn’t let my future life be bogged down by what couldn’t be changed. I would honor their memory. I would learn from what happened. I would regret nothing, remember everything, and hope to make the future brighter.
That sounded like a feeling worth having.
Doubts casted from my mind, I traveled to my room and continued to think.
Being a ghost wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Not needing sleep sounded amazing, until you realized how useful it was. While everybody else rested after returning home I tried to distract myself by examining spells and working on my dolls, but my mind refused to settle. I wanted to rest, to let everything be and do nothing, but my ghost body wouldn’t allow it.
There were too many little tidbits of knowledge to analyze. My mind wanted to understand everything, from the little behavioral differences in my family to predicting the effects the battle would have. There were spells that needed learning and ramifications of living, however temporarily, as a ghost that needed to be considered. There could be no peace when there was something to think about, and there was always something to think about.
I needed to have that fixed.
Yet, it was not to be. I waited a few hours and then went to find the goddess in her bedroom, but was turned away at her door by two gatekeepers. “The goddess is not ready to receive visitors.”
I frowned. How long did she need to rest? “Do you know when I can see her?”
“No, I do not. The best of us are currently working to resolve this-” Behind the pair, the goddess’ door open. A familiar blue-haired witch slipped out of the room before firmly shutting the door.
“Oh? What is happening out here?” Mai asked.
I switched who was the focus of my inquiries immediately. “Mai, can I see Shinki?”
“No, I am afraid not Alice. She is still recuperating from the effects of the battle. Why? Is it urgent?”
I thought about my request before shaking my head. As annoying as my thoughts were, it wasn’t unbearable. “Not really. I wanted to ask her to make me a body.”
Mai began walking down the hall and beckoned for me to join her. “Is there a problem with your current form?”
“Not particularly. It could be really useful if I could focus on studying or working, but I’m not me like this. I can’t feel much of anything and I can’t seem to quiet my thoughts.”
“If the only remedy requires the goddess’ intervention, it might take a few days.” She didn’t elaborate on the goddess’ condition at all. I didn’t ask, either. I knew Shinki was being kept segregated because of her mental condition and not her physical condition.
“On that note, Alice,” Mai continued.
The ice witch stopped in the middle of a hall and pointed to my hand. “That book you are holding. It is one of the goddess’ is it not?”
“My book?” I had the urge to tell her no. It was my book, after all. I needed it, to learn more and to understand more. Why wouldn’t it be mine? Did Mai want it? She couldn’t have it!
Then I frowned. That urge was not mine, nor was it something Mima had left me. “Er, uhm, yes. It is.”
“Has it caused any problems for you?”
“…A few, but I think I can handle it.” The grimoire was certainly a dangerous artifact. Over the years it had been instilled with a kind of lust for knowledge, for more spells. The not-quite-sentience bled over, influencing whoever held it the most. I was stronger than some silly book. Even if I regained a normal body, or let myself wander as a spirit, I was positive I could curb any more undue thoughts.
“Good.” Mai looked genuinely relieved. “In that case, I ask that you hold on to it.”
I looked down at the unassuming black book. “Why? Wouldn’t the goddess want this back?”
“Yes, she would. I have no doubt she would want it back. As long as Yumeko remains dead, you should not let the goddess have it back. I would advise not even letting her see it.”
Mai’s request mystified me until Shinki’s name resonated within me, within the grimoire. Frowning, I flipped through the book until I came across one of the pages the goddess had used. Looking over the spell, I didn’t need to read the words to understand what it would do. The grimoire related to me, in vivid detail, what exactly the spell would accomplish. It was a living record of every user’s magic.
I was the goddess, a rage-filled goddess whose emotions were unchecked. The beautiful family I had been cultivating for hundreds of years had died. In its place were warring demons, wantonly murdering each other in the streets every day for a year. I had tried to mediate, to restrain myself, but it hadn’t helped. I worked through the despair, a hold in place on all the emotions I might feel. I tried to emulate that woman, emulate her strength, to bring the crisis to an end.
Then the one presence that bolstered my mind had been murdered. So, as any good demon lord would, I went out to restore order to my lands. The ones truly faithful to me, to my orders, had already given themselves to me. They were resting with me, awaiting my favor. The rest hadn’t cared to heed me.
I floated above the demonic sprawl where my progeny lived, and pulled. I pulled on that little bit of my soul I had used as basis for all my children to grow. I pulled on that piece of me and brought myself back. I was laughing while it was happening. Bodies slumped in the streets as my children were torn away from their flesh but I was laughing. It felt good, unleashing my power for once. It was exhilarating, euphoric! I was the goddess of my realm, stronger and smarter than any of my idiot kindred that lay dead in their holes, slain by mere humans. I was the best, the most powerful and-
I wasn’t any of that. If the grimoire could evoke such powerful memories, perhaps I couldn’t handle it with a normal, non-enchanted body.
Before the goddess made me a body, I needed to investigate further. It was good thing I had all the time I wanted.
“From that face I know you can tell, can’t you?” Mai spoke. “This grimoire is a cheat sheet, perfect for someone who has little knowledge of spell craft but vast reserves of energy. Once we clear her for visitors, for making decisions, I still would prefer she does not have the options available in that grimoire.”
It wasn’t a stretch to imagine the goddess using one of the many spells in the grimoire. I understood the temptation all too well. “I understand. I’ll watch over it. But, wouldn’t it make more sense for somebody else to hold on to it?”
“It is best to leave with someone who knows they are not affected negatively. I know I am not suited to watch over it for extended lengths of time.”
If Mai wanted me to watch it then I would. I wasn’t complaining about the chance to study great magic. “I can keep it, then.”
“Thank you, Alice. Shall I come find you when the goddess is ready for visitors?”
We went our separate ways after that. I considered the time and then sat down in Pandemonium’s largest library. I remained there as long as I wanted to, researching different types of binding and dampening spells. Even if my mind wandered, I managed to study effectively enough.
After everything that happened, my life somehow returned to its routine.
There were differences, small differences that were too noticeable to be completely glossed over.
I didn’t need to deal with the distractions of life. I could work on whatever research I was conducting through the night and into the morning. Even if I had wanted and could eat breakfast, there was no one around to cook it.
The morning workouts were likewise void and again, even if I wanted them, Sara was unable to take the time to spend with me. The gatekeepers on a whole were running things along with help from some others like Mai. I had seen them keep watch for potential dangers as well as make preparations for when the goddess was of right mind.
Classes at school were emptier, several more desks vacant at every lesson. Some of the lessons were unnecessary given all my new knowledge, but there were plenty of interesting teachers around.
Gone were Erk’s broad instructions. We had long, in-depth discussions and debates on topics I had never known existed before. More and more of my questions were left unanswered as they ventured into areas neither Erk nor I had explored or fully understood.
At least my nightly lessons did not change. No infusion of seventeenth century education would ever help me understand physics without further schooling. It surprised me that all my usual tutors had survived and had promptly arrived at my room on time, like any other day.
That surprise didn’t last long. When I walked through the town the days after the battle, everything seemed absolutely normal.
“Hey, Alice! Try some of this fish, it has my newest spice!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t eat it.”
“Oh, Alice! Do you need another shipment of ore?”
“Alice! Come here and try this dress on for me!”
Even with the streets emptier, demons had already returned to doing what they loved. They hawked their wears, performed silly tricks, and painted to their hearts content. When I asked about missing partners or waitresses, the one I talked to would answer with a shrug and continue with their business.
Other than the lower amount of demons and the higher number of gatekeepers flying around, Makai had returned to how it always was.
That was how I waited, bouncing back and forth between magic and lessons. In that time I managed to break down parts of the dampening enchantments Mima had inlaid into the process of her creation of a ghost body.
I took the enchantment and laced it into all sorts of items. The most useful of the bunch were the ribbons I enchanted. I wrapped a few around the grimoire and kept many more near my clothes. Once the goddess created me a body, I could put them on and keep my emotions and outside influences in check.
It was around a week after we had returned from that battle when Mai came to me. I dropped the automatic window I had been toying with and followed her up to the goddess’ room.
There was a line that was forming down the halls of Pandemonium. I thought I saw around a tenth of the surviving city population waiting, with more arriving every minute.
Mai escorted me to the front of the line. A few of the demons looked disgruntled, but I paid them no mine. “I should warn you in advance, Alice, the goddess is still-”
“Let’s hurry it up already!” A rather familiar voice yelled out from the goddess’ room.
I looked up at Mai again. The witch only patted me on the back. “Good luck.”
I offered my grimoire to Mai, who carefully took it from me and kept it at arm’s length. I doubted such a precaution would help her more than my enchantments, but if it made her feel better who was I to comment?
Walking into the room, I approached the whited-haired woman on the bed. “Mother?”
“Oh, Alice! Come in, come in.” Shinki looked well enough. Physically, her appearance was how I always saw her. The long white hair and red dress were a constant for her.
Behaviorally, she was different. The Shinki I knew, the woman who had invited me into her family, had acted with a certain kind of poise. She had carried herself, if not super politely like my momma, in a respectable manner. The Shinki on the bed was lying on her side, her head propped up by one arm, the other arm lazily draped over her stomach.
“What do you need?” she asked me.
I thought about asking if she was feeling better or probing to see what had changed, but decided against it. I wanted to complete my business and leave. “Can you make me a body?”
“Yes. I want a living, breathing body that I can use.”
The goddess reached into her dress and pulled out a gem. She waved it through the air, causing the energy in the room to go wild. Fleshy, meaty parts formed and grew in the air. In no time at all a body was lying on the floor.
“There.” The goddess nodded, clearly proud of her work.
“What?” Shinki raised an eyebrow at me. “It isn’t good enough?”
“No!” I waved my hand while I answered. There was no technical problem with the goddess’ work. “No, it’s fine, just…”
The woman lying on the ground was beautiful. She had silky black hair and all the proportions any village man would dream of. Her slender hands were clasped over her stomach, the mindless and soulless body a sleeping beauty.
It was not a body I was expecting to use.
It took Shinki another two seconds to realize the problem. “Oh, you want one similar to your old body, right? Give me a moment.” The white-haired demon stood up and walked over to the body. Coming to a stop right next to the body on the floor, she raised her leg and brought it down.
Her foot crashed through the face of the body. I heard the bones in the skull crack and watched the head cave-in. It was a bloody mess of flesh and bone. Half an eyeball was still visible just next to Shinki’s foot.
Then the energy began to flow again. It wrapped around the body, changing it. Flesh turned blood red before shrinking and bending into an appropriate form.
Lying on the ground was an equally naked but much smaller body. There was no sign of the former mess.
“There. Identical as far as I can remember.”
“T-Thank you,” I told the goddess, deciding not to mention the lack of clothes. I could fix that with a few illusions until I reached my room.
After taking a moment to brace myself, I let my magical body dissolve and moved into the vessel lying on the floor.
I opened my eyes and took a deep breath.
The transition wasn’t as bad as I expected. Other than the brief disorientating moment as a bodiless spirit, there weren’t any problems. Everything felt familiar.
I placed my hands against the ground and pushed myself up.
Or, I tried to. My right arm wobbled and I ended up flopping over onto my stomach.
“You should be more careful,” Shinki advised from above me.
“R-Right…” I felt my face flush with embarrassment. It felt amazing! The crystal floor was ridiculously cold and somehow there was a slight draft in the room, but I was glad to have a real body again.
I managed to get to my knees and twirl some magic around me. Familiar whites and blues looked like they garbed me, even if they didn’t feel that way.
Why was Pandemonium so chilly?
“So is this all you needed, Alice?” Shinki asked as she lied back down on her bed.
“Y-Yes, this was it,” I answered.
“Great. Send in the next person when you head out.”
The goddess waved me off without another word. I bowed once before stepping outside, leaving the door open for the next demon.
“Are you okay, Alice?”
I ducked slightly when Mai tried to put a hand on my shoulder. I snatched the grimoire out of her hands and carefully took a step backwards. “I’m f-fine. Getting used to this body might take some effort, though.”
“Are you sure?” My actions caused Mai to worry even more. She reached out to do comfort me or support me or whatever else that involved touching me.
“Yes. Have a nice day!” I turned tail and fled. I almost tripped as soon as I started running. Giving up on bodily locomotion, I lifted into the air and flew down the hall. I felt the eyes of the demons in line follow me, but I was positive all they saw was a blonde girl and her not-quite-flapping-in-the-wind clothes racing away.
Once I reached my room, I quickly went to put on my clothes. The goddess’ body was almost a perfect match for my old one. The clothes I had fit comfortably, but stumbled on the buttons and ribbons of the clothes. Fine motor control eluded me. The body was perfectly fine, but manipulating it felt sluggish. I would need time to rebuild muscle memory and regain the finesse I used to have.
Shifting back into a biological, physical body was tough. There was a massive amount of tiny distractions I had barely noticed or thought about when I had been whole and alive. The beating of a heart, the heaving of breathing and the prickling of skin were just the tip of the iceberg.
Adjusting to them was strange, but I appreciated them. They were diversions that lightened the load on my mind.
Although I could somehow be relaxed, I didn’t feel happy. Sitting on my bed, I could feel the slight twist in my stomach and the sheen of sweat over my skin. I was bothered, worried, and I couldn’t say about what.
Before, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I should feel and analyzing everything that had happened. In a living body, my mind was preoccupied with trying to understand why I was feeling massively uncomfortable.
Hadn’t I already decided everything was fine?
Why was having a heart so frustrating?
I left my room behind, left Pandemonium behind, and went to wander the streets of the city to think. How ironic. First I wanted to stop the constant analyses and then I needed it once they were gone.
“Hey Alice. Enjoy breathing in all this air again?”
I squeaked when a pair of fingers poked me in the back. I spun around and snapped at the impish red-haired girl. “Yes, I am! How did you notice?”
“I dunno,” Ko drawled. “There’s something more substantive about you now.” Taking advantage of my slowness, my friend took two of her fingers and poked my sides.
“Ah! Ko, that tickles!” I tried to slap her hands away but the red-haired girl effortlessly dodged around me.
“Good. Does it make you want to tell me why you look so glum?”
“I don’t- ah! Stop that!”
The cheeky girl grinned at me. “Don’t try to deny it. You’re as easy to read as any book.”
“It’s nothing important.”
“Aw, come on! Tell Big Sister Ko all your worries!” The red-head nestled up to my side and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. Then she angled her head and rubbed it against me.
“Wah, Ko! Stop!” I tried to throw her off, but the little demon was too strong. “Don’t mess up my hair!”
“Now you feel like talking?”
“It isn’t anything huge,” I insisted.
“Huge or not, it’s bothering you, right?” Ko led us over to a bench where she dragged me down to sit.
We sat shoulder to shoulder for a few minutes. Ko waited patiently for me to say something, anything. I could have told her to leave me alone or I could have asked her to make me lunch and I was sure she would have done either.
“…Do you feel like anything is wrong, Ko? That’s how I feel, especially now that I can. I’m uneasy. That little knot in your stomach when things aren’t quite right? That’s what’s bothering me.”
“What are you, psychic? Should I put on a lead hat?”
“Don’t make fun of…you too?”
“Yeah, I know exactly what you mean, Alice. It’s like the walls of my little world are smeared and dirty.” Ko kicked her legs up and laid down on the bench, resting her head in my lap. I scowled at her but she just smiled and continued on. “I tried going out for a bit yesterday, but I couldn’t enjoy it. Even if we went together, I don’t think I’d find it much fun. I mean, I’ve already seen it all before and now? Now it’s just empty.”
“Empty, that’s right.” I considered Ko’s words and the state of the city. The two clicked together in my mind. “I told myself I wouldn’t let what has happened stop me, that I would keep living for the future. Everybody else…isn’t.”
“Seems like nobody else is letting the past bother them. Is that wrong?”
“But that’s not the important part! For them, nothing has changed. They don’t care about what has happened! They’d sooner forget about it all and continue on like they always have.” I frowned and considered the second case. “Or, they’re so caught up in the past that I don’t even recognize them anymore.”
“You can’t have it both ways, Alice. Either they act the same or they act different.”
“No! I just want,” I paused, unsure of what to say.
Maybe I was overcomplicating things. “I just want to be happy,” I said. “I want to have dinner with my family, but I don’t want to forget what they’ve done for me. I want to be happy with how everything, everything has gone. That way none of their sacrifices will be in vain. But I’m not happy because nothing is quite right. People act like nothing has happened or they have changed too much for me to be comfortable. I want to be glad that everything has ended so I can put it all behind me, but it’s not working because it’s all different from how it should be!”
“Hey!” Ko shouted. She reached up with her hands and smacked both of my cheeks, grabbing them and stretching them. “Who’s changed too much? Are you calling me fat?”
“And I’ve still got some scars the magic didn’t heal! Don’t try to tell me that we didn’t fight for my life,” Ko interrupted me.
The redhead smiled and let go of my cheeks. She pulled herself up using my shoulders and touched her forehead against mine. “Stop talking like you’re all alone or I’m gonna get offended.”
“I’m sorry, Ko. I,” ‘completely forgot about you’ made me sound like a terrible friend. Maybe I was. Yuki might have saved me and Shinki might have provided for me, but it was Ko who had done the most. “I took you for granted.”
“Well, that’s a problem. Looks like I’m going to have to stick to you all the time so you remember me, eh?” The redhead rolled to her feet and pulled on my arm. “Let’s go, Alice! It’s time to stop thinking about all those old farts and be happy!”
“Ko! I can’t do that to my family!” Did she expect me to ignore everybody else?
“You’ve said it yourself already! If you want to respect your family, then the best thing you can do is try to be happy right now! Who cares about how they are? What’s important is how you are, how you see things.” Ko tugged harder and pulled me to my feet. I stumbled forward into her waiting arms, the redhead catching me and holding me tight. “Besides, your family right here is worried about you too. Smile for me, would you? We should be able to figure something out between the two of us.”
Girl of Death, Part Four, Final: Family Reunions – End
>>12017 If I can help it, all my stories should be able to mesh together perfectly. It’s more likely that they’ll be a poorly made, amateurish puzzle but I can hope.
And no, I don’t think AG had seen a single direct mentioning of Alice yet (perhaps for good reason, you might imagine. Although, I’m curious as to how many readers over there have follow this story here.)
I rolled my eyes. “Hi Ko. You didn’t-” I squeaked when the red-haired cannonball hit me as I was turning around.
“Look at you! Look at you! You’re so big now!” My friend wrapped her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. Then she started moving, groping around for different holds. Was she some kind of monkey?
“Ko, stop that!” More than completely respecting personal space, it was far too ticklish having her clamber around!
The redhead paused on my side, one arm wrapped around my neck. I nearly jumped out of my skin when she grabbed me with her free hand. “Oh damn Alice, what is this? So big~”
“Ah! Stop it!” I took a step forward, put my shoulder into it, and flung her.
Ko bounced into the dirt, rolling a bit before taking to her feet again. “Sheesh, you’re so violent now.”
I coughed and patted my clothes, making sure my rambunctious friend hadn’t done anything more permanent to my outfit.
“I kind of liked it more when you were smaller. You were cuter!” Ko sat down on the ground in front of me. “What brought about this change?”
I sat down on the ground in front of her.
The height difference was noticeable. While I had always stared Ko in the eyes, the two of us closely matching heights, that was no longer the case. I was tall, a full-grown adult with all the proportions to match. I had to look down at Ko and she up.
“I didn’t feel right in a child’s body,” I answered her. “Besides, it would have made living here on my own more difficult.”
Ko glanced at the woods around us before nodding. “I guess I understand that. Are you still feeling like two people?”
“After all this time, I’ve grown used to it. Other than the memories, I can’t say what’s mine and what’s hers. Even if these thoughts hadn’t been forced on me, I don’t think I would have kept the mindset of a child much longer.”
“Yeah, you were always pretty boring.”
I reached out and grabbed the little upstart by her shoulders. She tried to juke me, but my reach was far longer than she was used to. I pulled her into my lap and messed with her hair, the little devil struggling all the way.
Eventually I let her go and stood up. Ko grumbled a bit but followed after me. “So that’s why you’re out here now?”
“That’s right. After you left, I was always curious. This…seemed like the best option, all things considered.”
The two of us looked at the elegant white house sitting in the forest. It was a multi-story building, with a basement as well as a cleverly designed second floor and attic. It looked like a big one-story family home.
It was of much higher quality than the old home I had in the village, and larger even if it didn’t appear so. I had constructed the majority of it out of different metals, mostly varying types of steel. The black tiles of the roof were cleverly formed sheets of metal and the frame behind the wooden façade was also metal.
I had only read a few different architecture manuals, but I figured a liberal application of magic could fix any problems.
“Oh man, this is a nice house. I wish I could have place like this instead of my little room. I can’t believe you put it up so quickly!” Ko floated around the building, knocking on windows and admiring my work.
“It’s also almost completely-” I paused when the redhead opened the unlocked door and rushed inside. I followed her and stopped in the doorway. “-unfurnished.”
Ko stood in the center of my living room. It was bare of any furnishings save for the single metal table where the supplies I had brought with me rested. Even the wood flooring was only recently installed. Every other room in the house was similar or worse. The basement still had dirt floors and the attic had no floors.
“Whew, you weren’t kidding.” Ko walked over to the table and cleared space for her to sit. “Where have you been sleeping during the construction?”
“On the ground, outside and inside. Those few camping trips we’ve taken prepared me well enough.” I walked over to the table and extended it, moving over my food and stacking my papers to give me room to sit next to Ko.
“Yikes. I could probably drag a bed or something over from the mansion.”
“No thank you. I’ll manage something soon enough.” I looked at my companion and thought about my mental map of Gensokyo. The bounded territory was tiny. “It is rather late in the day. You didn’t get lost coming here again, did you?”
“Hey, hey, I’ve gotten used to navigating around in this damned forest.” I giggled at the redhead. My explorer friend had been adamant on being able to find her way around on the surface without the aid of flight. It was a personal challenge to herself that she had been struggling with. “I don’t know how you all managed to live amongst these damn trees.”
“The border momma maintained was strong,” I answered, “and the village hacked and burned any trees that managed to get through.”
“Are you using what she set up for your place?”
“Not quite. The boundary limits are the same, but I’m using my own combination of spells.” I didn’t mention how the artifact that had prevented the forest’s encroachment was gone. My spells were more effective at any rate.
“Any plans on what you’re going to use all the extra space for? This one house looked lonely.”
“I might put up my own forge and maybe a separate workshop, but I haven’t considered it that far yet. I may just lessen the radius of the boundary.”
“You have it all centered on your house then?”
Ko glanced up at the ceiling. Unlike whenever I had shown her an interesting creation back in Makai, I could tell my friend was truly seeing the ceiling and all that was within. “Man, even with all the tutoring I’ve been getting, I still can’t make heads or tails of these runes.”
“Ms. Knowledge is treating you well then?”
“She sure is! I was kinda hesitant at the idea of being contracted to her when she first came down to us, and her damn naming issues pushed all my buttons, but it’s working out! All the books I could ever want, I get to travel, and she’s a, well, really knowledgeable teacher too. A bit needy, but don’t tell her I said that.” Ko had written as much to me in a constant stream of letters ever since she left Makai. I was willing to admit I had felt slightly jealous of the woman my friend had written so glowingly about, that she doted on day and night even if it was her assigned job.
“You get to travel but you didn’t visit home?”
“Aw, don’t look at me like that. It’s business travel! I would have checked-in if I wasn’t so busy.”
My question drew the fun out of the conversation and tossed it out the window. Ko’s answer was light-hearted, but not a joke. “Maybe. Considering you’re moving out, I guess things are still awkward down there?”
I sighed. “It isn’t as bad as you’re imagining. Matters might be settled within the year.” I thought about Makai, about the strange flux that pervaded the underground realm. “Shinki finally got around to reconstituting Yumeko.”
Ko whistled. “Oh man. How many riots started in the streets?”
“Not too many. There was only one group out of all of them that Shinki removed.”
“Eh? That can’t be right. I don’t care if most of the extremists haven’t been reconstituted, there should have been furious rage at that announcement.”
I thought about the moving platform Shinki and Yumeko had toured around on immediately after the maid was given a body. “It might have helped that Yumeko was an adorable four feet tall.”
“She what? Ahahahaha!”
“I feel for her now that nobody seems to take her seriously, but her frustration is too cute!” To be fair, several demons had lost their legs when the maid took a sword to them, but at least the goddess was not as restrained by her diminutive child as before. I supposed that was a good thing with all the change occurring.
“So it’s all working out somehow?”
“It’s getting better, but I’m not sure. I think the number of retaliatory attacks is beginning to get out of hand…”
“Well damn. I hope mother doesn’t lose it.”
“She hasn’t yet, but she is certainly adapting; returning to her old self, as people kept telling me. She’s much closer to how she was after the battle than when I first met her. In a few months, I’m not sure if you’d recognize her.”
Ko tapped her chin in thought. “That’s a shame. Maybe I better visit home soon.”
“I think they would all appreciate it.”
We sat together in silence for a few minutes, sharing a slice of bread I had brought with me.
“Is being back on the surface familiar?” Ko asked.
“No. I walked through the village and visited the shrine, but none of it is the same as I remember.” I chuckled and swallowed my snack. “One human village. That’s still a shock to imagine.”
“You’ll adjust, no worries.” Ko slapped me twice on the back before jumping to the ground. “Anyway, I’d stick around but I’m on the clock. I wasted too much time getting here.”
“You didn’t get lost, huh?”
“I didn’t! Maybe just turned around a bit…” The redheaded demon stamped her foot and marched to the door. “Come visit me sometime, or else I’ll figure out when I can mess with you!”
“Don’t fly into a tree Ko!” I shouted after the demon who had decided to take to the skies rather than tromp through the woods. “Now what? I could try to make my own mattress for the night…”
As I walked back outside, my wards around the perimeter of my house sung to me. “Someone else is here?” I figured I could handle anything that tried to break in my house as long as I knew they were on the way.
I looked over to where the breach was supposed to have occurred and saw the dispersion of white. “Hiding doesn’t do you much good, I’m afraid,” I called out.
“Really? I thought I had that spell down…” the disappointed voice answered me.
A purple-robed witch appeared in the branches of a tree, her magical illusion dropped. She hopped to the ground and began to pick the twigs out of her clothes.
“Your camouflage was excellent, but your current spell bleeds energy horribly,” I said as I walked over to her.
“It does?” Marisa raised her head to look at me when I drew closer. Her eyes widened and her mouth hung open. “Wow…”
It wasn’t the reaction I expected, but I should have. “What is it, Marisa?”
“Are you Alice?”
“Yes I am.”
“Wah? You weren’t this big last month!” She rushed over to stand right in front of me. She stood up on her tiptoes but came nowhere my height.
“Now that I’ll be living here, I thought I was in need for a change.”
“Can I do that? I want to be taller! It’s so hard to cook when my hat catches on fire!” As always, Marisa bounced in excitement at the possibility.
I laughed and stole her hat in order to rub her head. “You’ll have to wait until you grow older, Marisa.”
“That’s not fair!” Instead of snatching her hat back, Marisa looked down. “You’re wearing boots,” she observed.
“Indeed I am. The surface has much less forgiving terrain.” Luckily, Marisa could not tell that I had tried to go without shoes only to suffer with every step for an hour until I gave in.
When Marisa didn’t say anything else, I began to worry. A quiet Marisa was a sick Marisa, or worse. Before I could ask her, she hesitantly spoke up on her own. “So…you’re really going to stay here? For a long time?”
“I think so, yes.”
“Ah…ah, uhm…” The little witch balled her hands together while she looked down.
I listened to Marisa’s stuttering with a smile. “Yes?”
“Will you, uhm, help me with my magic?”
She sounded worried, as if she was asking for the world on a silver platter. There was none of the childish confidence she usually exuded in the request.
“Of course. Isn’t that what I’ve been doing?”
Her head whipped up before she averted her gaze again. “Ah, yes. Uhm,” she stumbled, as if she hadn’t been expecting such an answer.
“Care to come in, Marisa?” I asked while turning back to my house. I did my best not to laugh, but a smirk definitely crossed my face.
“Okay!” She pepped up immediately, nearly sprinting towards the door. Before she made it halfway to the house, she had some thought that caused her to stop and turn around. She waited politely before falling in step behind me.
I smiled at her manners and held the door open for her.
“Wow, it’s a lot cleaner in here than my house,” she commented.
“Marisa, the room is empty.”
“Exactly! My room is never this clean!” Marisa danced around in the empty space before naturally moving towards the table covered in supplies. “Are you going to be making everything you need?”
“Probably. It will be good practice in adjusting my spell casting to the energy levels of the surface.”
I closed the door and then frowned at what I saw. “Marisa, what happened to the back of your dress?”
The little witch’s purple dress was torn straight down the center of her back, from shoulder blades to lower chest.
Marisa turned at the waist, trying to see what I was talking about. “Huh? Oh, it ripped when I was gathering mushrooms in the forest a week ago.”
I narrowed my gaze at the girl. “Why didn’t you fix it? Why are you still wearing it?”
“A witch needs to dress properly! That’s what I was taught!” Marisa began to toy with her fingers after she met my stern gaze. “And I, uhm, t-this dress is important so…”
“I see. And you don’t have another one of those dresses…but you had two hats? What kind of nonsense…” I sighed and walked over to the table, searching through my supplies. “Honestly, that’s ridiculous. She should have gotten one spare at least.”
With a wave of my hand, I transmuted some of the spare metal I brought into an ergonomic chair. “Take it off, Marisa.”
Marisa stared at me like I was asking her to murder a favorite pet. “H-Huh? W-Why?”
“I brought one of my sewing kits with me. I’ll sew up this dress for you and then we’ll make you some more clothes later.” I sat down in the chair and held out my hand.
“Make me more clothes?”
“Yes. I won’t have you running around in the same dress every day anymore.”
It took Marisa a few seconds to process my words, but once she did she was all smiles. “Ah, okay. Thank you very much!”
The little witch wrapped herself up in the quilt I had brought while I stitched up her dress. It was a peaceful few minutes of silence. I thought Marisa would bombard me with questions or comments, but she remained quiet, investigating the doll she had taken off the table.
She was always like that. She was more than capable of sitting in silence, waiting hours on end while I- while Mima experimented with a new potion or worked through a complex spell construct. It was the girl’s form of deference to the ones she respected. She knew how she should behave, even if she didn’t always follow those rules.
“There. All done for now.” I swiftly removed the quilt from around Marisa and slipped the dress over her upstretched arms.
“Heheh!” She stood up and reached around to her back, feeling my careful stitching with the tips of her fingers.
“Now Marisa, you should go home before night falls.” The Forest of Magic, while always dangerous, probably wouldn’t be much more hazardous to one who had been living there for years. Still, it was better safe than sorry.
“Okay…” She picked my doll off the ground and placed it back on the table, giving it a look before heading towards the door.
She stopped there, hesitating to open it and leave.
“What is it?” I asked her.
“I can come back tomorrow, right?”
I sighed and walked over to her. I knelt down, a strange experience itself, to look her in the eyes. “And the day after, and the next, and however many after that. I don’t see how I can sew you new clothes or teach you magic if you don’t.”
“Yeah!” Marisa’s grinned instantly, any uncertainty banished from her mind. “Good night Alice!”
She opened the door and ran out, waving goodbye before she shut it behind her. The door closed softly, opportunities lost and opportunities gained.
“Ah, I see this is going to be as much trouble as I expected. Marisa is a handful, isn’t she? I understand why she is so promising, though.” I sat down in my temporary chair and kicked off my boots. Stretching slightly, I put my feet up on the table and grabbed the doll Marisa had been examining. “How long will it take her to notice, I wonder? If she works hard, specializes properly, it might only take a few years…”
I paused, letting memories and emotions wash over me. My hands passed the pathetic doll back and forth, fingers playing with one of its many belts. “No, I’m not going to hinder her. I will teach her as much as I can, as much as she cares to learn, for as long as I can. I owe her that much. Living in this house, practicing this magic, remembering these people; isn’t that the path I have taken?”
I put the doll back on the table and looked outside. To get a decent bed I would need to shop around in the village, but it was nearing nightfall. I decided that hurrying there and back wasn’t worth it. I didn’t feel like running.
It’s been a long haul. I’m glad it’s over so I can get off this damned road filled with pain and misery. And fun. There was some fun in there.
All in all, this has been my first major work and it shows. I’ve learned a tremendous amount by writing this story, from beginning to end. Sure, most of it was figuring out what ‘not’ to do, but they were important lessons nonetheless. I like to think of it all as one giant experiment in what I like and don’t like, even this ending.
Looking back, I know I was completely unprepared for what I had gotten myself into. Just think, the original plan had this story split into eight parts that followed Alice from the surface down to Makai back to the surface and back down again, from Touhou 1 to possibly Touhou 13. Needless to say, that plan was quickly scrapped and burned.
Of all the things I learned, two lessons stand out the most, lessons for all writers I think. The first is understanding what exactly you want to write. This story had three aspects to it I wanted to tell that that I could have (and still could) split into their own stories. Alice, Gensokyo, and Makai. There is plenty of history and nuance to the latter two that I did not or could not communicate appropriately in this medium. Mixing a coming-of-age story with political overtones and everything else could make an amazing story, but could also cause the themes to detract from one another.
The second is time management and writing styles. My ‘default’ writing style is not conducive to rapid work, horrry shit it is not. The next story I write I am going to seriously try and mix-up my standard writing style. That isn’t to say I hate how I currently write. It’s my natural tendency for a reason. However, I personally think a writer constantly needs to be experimenting and improving themselves, challenging themselves to be better. Can’t rest on my laurels when there’s more to conquer!
Anyway, that’s it. I won’t ramble much more unprovoked. I’d love to field any and all questions or comments at this point. Don’t need to worry about spoilers any more. You can ask questions about the story, my experiences, background research, my shoe size, lessons learned, whatever you want! I’d also love any derision or praise, critiques or adoration.
Or, we can all leave this thread and this story to a peaceful slumber.
>>12022 >Stats Love it. Let’s see what else I can rustle up.
Story Pictures: 108 Story Life: 2/20/12 – 8/20/12 (548 days) Time Spent Writing: ~383 hours (underestimate) Part One Length: ~82,833 words Part Two Length: ~71,749 words Part Three Length: ~75,422 words Part Four Length: ~42,258 words Epilogue Length: ~3,105 words
>high-quality Thanks for that!
>>12035 I don’t necessarily associate wanting to change the past with regret. For example, I haven’t regretted writing anything here, but if I could yell at my past self to avoid fucking up? I think it’d make a better story, at the very least.
Also, what's up with Yumeko in general? I get that she's more or less an external personification of Shinki's superego created to help keep her in line, but I don't see why that would make all the demons hate her. Quite the opposite, actually. I would think they'd be a fan of the person who discourages Shinki from eating all their souls on a whim.
If this was ever explained in the story I missed it.
>>12043 >I don’t necessarily associate wanting to change the past with regret. For example, I haven’t regretted writing anything here, but if I could yell at my past self to avoid fucking up? I think it’d make a better story, at the very least.
I can agree with that; rather I do, I just didn't go into more detail as I didn't want to start an argument and shit up a good story.
The words I used were roughly close enough that I left it be.
What I meant, in full, is more akin to, every thing teaches a lesson that changes me as a person, I value all lessons and there fore would not change any action because I would loose out on that specific lesson. This as a whole, rather changing a past action, would literally make me a different person and that is unsavory.
Long story short, I wouldn't change any past action because that would change me.
>>12044 >I am incredibly disappointed we didn't get to see more of Delinquent Shinki and Mini Yumeko, comedy duo.
Alas, that is a tale for a different day. I’m just full of disappointments.
>What would have happened in the final battle if we'd helped Yumeko against Sariel first instead of taking out the tower?
To summarize, a certain rebellious child would be quickly cut down but a certain goddess would suffer an untimely defeat. From there, well, it wouldn’t be pretty for the demons without a giant magical super weapon backing them. With the ‘natural order’ of Makai restored, Alice would be adapting to a more demonic home environ before skipping out completely.
>>12045 >Also, what's up with Yumeko in general? One of those things I wished I had worked into the story better. Overall, I needed more interactions between Alice, Shinki, Yumeko, and the plot important demons. I tried to shoehorn some of this into the last flashback, but that’s another set of problems entirely.
Yumeko was a driving force in order and restraint. She was created in order to curb Shinki’s chaotic demonic tendencies and to hold the goddess to the ideals she held in high value. Unlike Shinki who was actively trying to change herself despite how unnatural it was, the other demons were less receptive of the authority that Yumeko represented. You want to murder that guy who annoyed you? Yumeko would slice your head off. You want to try and poison the water supply for kicks and giggles? Yumeko would slice your head off. You want partake in a little forced sexual deviancy? Yumeko would slice your head off. Of course, she’d give you a nice warning in advance…most of the time.
It would do well to take note that Yumeko, along with Sariel, were the most ‘demonic’ of Shinki’s children. They just expressed it in different ways.
During the civil war that occurred once everybody was fed up with the situation, it was Yumeko and her followers who were pretty much ruthlessly massacring people in combat while Sariel and her gang retaliated in less conventional ways.
So, yes, she stopped Shinki from hitting the big red reset button, but those that hate Yumeko would argue she was the reason events escalated to that point in the first place.
>>12046 Thanks! I’m glad you enjoy my writing and I hope that I can waste more of your time in the future.
>>12048 Ah, I see. Put that way, I completely understand.
>>12057 >You want partake Damn, this ruins the joke completely. I suck.
>>12096 Thank you very much! I’m glad this exercise in pain and new experience was enjoyable for others. I have a story on /th/ that is currently stuttering along while I try to find new times to write. After that finishes up, we’ll see where I travel next.